DNA analyst: Domestic dogs killed Brenda Hamilton – Washington Daily News
For more than two years, relatives and friends of Pantego resident Brenda Hamilton have sought answers about the 77-year-old’s death in February 2019.
They now have a better idea of the animal species responsible for his death. Recent findings submitted by a University of Florida DNA analyst show that domestic dogs attacked Hamilton on February 15, 2019 while she was walking near her home, but those specific dogs have still not been identified.
Alerted to the scene by their two dogs, Hamilton’s neighbors found her in a ditch submerged shoulder-deep in water. Hamilton suffered from serious injuries. She died at Vidant Health Center three days later.
Authorities said most of the evidence at the scene was lost in the water. Investigators found minimal evidence, including a flashlight Hamilton was carrying, as well as a dead nutria found near his body.
Biologists from Western Carolina University and Microtrace LLC analyzed the evidence, but could not determine whether a wild or domestic animal was responsible for the attack. Ginger Clark, a DNA analyst at the William R. Maples Center for Forensics at the University of Florida, began analyzing the evidence afterwards.
The two dogs that alerted Hamilton’s neighbors were known to accompany Hamilton on his walks. They were quarantined for 10 days after the incident, and investigators ultimately ruled both dogs “not dangerous.”
Blood flakes were found on the flashlight recovered from the scene. In an email sent to Beaufort County Executive Brian Alligood last November, Clark said the flashlight samples “do not match known dogs,” adding that she was “still inclined to believe that other dogs were involved”.
Investigators conducted a neighborhood sweep during which they took DNA samples from 14 dogs near the site of the attack.
THE FINAL REPORT
In April, the Florida team submitted a final report of their findings. Beaufort County commissioners reviewed and discussed this report on Monday.
“I am of the opinion that Ms Hamilton was attacked by dogs, based on the physical blood spatter and DNA evidence,” Clark wrote in the report. “Based on the DNA evidence, none of the dogs submitted were likely involved. Based on the amount of physical damage suffered by Ms Hamilton, it was likely multiple dogs, likely at least 50 pounds or more.
Clark said his analysis limited the species scope to domestic dogs. She mentioned polymerase chain reaction testing, a technique used to detect genetic material.
“All evidence that generated species-associated PCR products was determined to be Canis lupus familiaris, domestic dog,” the report states. “The marker used for this test detects wolf, fox and coyote DNA as well as dog DNA. No evidence has been found of a canid other than the domestic dog. All evidence samples were also PCR amplified using markers specific to felids, large and small, and bears. There was no evidence of felids or bears on any of the evidence. I am convinced that these animals were not involved in this incident. I found evidence of a domestic dog ONLY.
The final report document can be viewed in the agenda file for the June 7 Commissioners’ meeting. Check out this package at https://co.beaufort.nc.us/downloads/agendas.
Commissioner Hood Richardson said he hoped for a “much better response” than the report detailed.
“Quite frankly, I think we screwed up with forensics,” Richardson said. “I called the lady who did this job. If you read the report, you can see that she is trying and struggling to get samples. And I don’t think we sampled the site properly for DNA. We haven’t cordoned off the site. I think we mishandled the samples when we turned them over to the federal authorities, who had no jurisdiction in the matter.
“…I am very disappointed with the results of the report,” Richardson added. “I feel for the family. I receive throughout the county. I go to the woods all over the county. People who work for me go into the woods all over the county. We have never had a report of a pack of domestic dogs trying to attack anyone. That’s not to say they might not be there, but the results of DNA work are very, very, very inconclusive.
Council Chairman Frankie Waters expressed concern about the existence of feral dogs in the county.
“I’ve heard hunters talk about seeing wild dogs in the woods when they’re hunting,” Waters said.
“I think that’s the best we can do,” Waters added. “I think we’ve exhausted and we’ve done what I think the public and citizens of this area, and hopefully the entire county, have asked us to do. It’s not the answer some people want, and I don’t think, as Hood says, that we control the ultimate conclusion.