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Police say they have "person of interest" in fatal California dog attack

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man arrested on suspicion of growing pot at the home where he lived was a "person of interest" in the brutal fatal mauling of a Southern California woman by a pack of pit bulls, police said on Friday.

Alex Jackson, 29, was arrested after authorities found what is being described as a marijuana "grow" operation at his home, Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said. Authorities also seized eight dogs at the property, police said

Whitmore said investigators were trying to determine through DNA and forensic evidence if the dogs - six pit bulls and two mixed breeds - were involved in Thursday morning's fatal attack in the community of Littlerock, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles.

Authorities have said that the owner of the dogs involved in the attack could potentially face charges.

"Don't forget, this is an unusual case," Whitmore said. "There have been dog maulings before but rarely does a person die."

In another such high-profile attack, a woman who had been walking alone in the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, was mauled to death in April 2011 by a pack of four pit bulls that had escaped from a fenced yard.

A decade earlier, 33-year-old Diane Whipple, a top collegiate lacrosse player and coach, was fatally mauled in 2001 by two Presa Canarios outside of her San Francisco apartment.

The dog's owners, a married couple, were later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and the wife was found guilty of second-degree murder following a sensational trial in Los Angeles.

In the Littlerock case, a driver called police on Thursday morning to report that four pit bulls were mauling a woman by the side of a road, in the sparsely populated high desert of Southern California near Palmdale.

When a sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene minutes later, he found the woman on the ground being attacked by a single pit bull, who moved aggressively toward him. The deputy fired twice at the animal before it ran off into the desert, apparently unharmed.

The victim, identified on Friday as 63-year-old Pamela Maria Devitt, died in ambulance while being rushed to a nearby hospital. Authorities say she was believed to have been walking alone in the neighborhood at the time of the attack.

An autopsy will be conducted as early as Friday to establish a cause of death, Los Angeles County Coroner's spokesman Ed Winter said.

Deputies who conducted an exhaustive daylong search for the dogs using helicopters and assisted by Los Angeles Animal Care and Control officers were led to the home by tips from local residents, a sheriff's department spokesman said.

It was not immediately clear if Jackson owned the home or the eight dogs taken away from the property.

Law enforcement officials warned residents in the area not to approach the dogs, which were described as tan in color, and said that people walking alone should carry a cell phone or whistle in case they were approached by aggressive animals.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Andrew Hay and Bernard Orr)

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