Dog owner fails to show for trial, receives $1K fine for LaGrange attack

Posted Feb. 08, 2011, at 4:35 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 08, 2011, at 7:37 p.m.
Karen Stewart, on left, sits with her attorney, Patricia Locke, as court proceedings begin in the civil trial of Adam Bemis in Lincoln District Court on Tuesday, February 7, 2011. After being mauled by Bemis's dog in November, Stewart's right arm had to be amputated, and her left arm also sustained considerable injury which required skin grafts from her leg. Bemis failed to appear for the court proceedings, during which Judge Kevin Stitham imposed a fine of $1,000, the maximum allowed by Maine state law. Stitham also imposed restictions concerning Bemis's ownership of any dogs.
Karen Stewart, on left, sits with her attorney, Patricia Locke, as court proceedings begin in the civil trial of Adam Bemis in Lincoln District Court on Tuesday, February 7, 2011. After being mauled by Bemis's dog in November, Stewart's right arm had to be amputated, and her left arm also sustained considerable injury which required skin grafts from her leg. Bemis failed to appear for the court proceedings, during which Judge Kevin Stitham imposed a fine of $1,000, the maximum allowed by Maine state law. Stitham also imposed restictions concerning Bemis's ownership of any dogs.

LINCOLN, Maine — A 28-year-old man last known to be living in LaGrange was convicted in absentia and received the maximum sentence under civil law Tuesday for his dog’s brutal attack two months ago on a former friend who lost most of her right arm and whose left arm was badly mauled.

District Court Judge Kevin L. Stitham ordered that Adam Bemis, who owned the American bulldog mix involved in the Nov. 12 attack, to pay a $1,000 fine, to permanently tattoo and install identifying microchips in any dogs he might have, and to confine his dogs to locked and fenced areas except when being taken to veterinarians.

When beyond the confinement, they must be kept on leashes no longer than 3 feet. Failure to comply could result in criminal charges against Bemis that carry jail sentences of as many as 364 days, Stitham said.

Stitham explained to victim Karen Stewart and the gallery at Lincoln District Court that the Maine Legislature wrote the civil law requiring those penalties and that he was constrained from adding more to the sentence.

Stewart, who said she knew and liked Stitham from previous business in his court, was sympathetic and expressed some satisfaction with the verdict.

“I think it went great,” Stewart said after the hearing. “I wish it could have gone the other way [with more severe penalties], but like the judge said, it’s the Legislature.”

Assistant District Attorney Margaret Gray said that court officials could not determine Bemis’ whereabouts. His telephone number appears disconnected and Gray said she couldn’t be certain whether he still lived in LaGrange.

Stewart said she had a feeling Bemis would not appear in court, though they were once good friends. Stewart said she didn’t know why the dog attacked her, but suspected it happened because Bemis hadn’t fed it.

“He didn’t want to face the music,” Stewart said. “He’s trying to blame it on his brother, his ex-girlfriend, [but] Adam is the one who let the dog out. If I had the [ability to sentence Bemis], I would get it so that he had to take care of people, so he could pay his fines off.

“The only thing I wanted from Mr. Bemis,” she added, “is an apology, and he never gave it to me.”

Speaking in hushed voices, Stewart, Stitham and Stewart’s attorney, Patricia Locke of Lincoln, discussed the attack at length when Bemis was sentenced in court.

“I’d like to show you the scars I have from the attack,” Stewart said.

“I will look at anything you want me to look at,” Stitham answered, although he already had indicated that Bemis would get the maximum sentence.

Stitham’s tone was gentle, warm and occasionally teasing as he listened. Locke guided Stewart by the arm to the defense lectern and then the witness stand, occasionally prompting her with questions, as Stewart explained how she went out for a walk from her friend Vaughn “Sonny” Adams’ trailer and was attacked by the dog. With help from Maine State Police Trooper Barry Meserve, Stewart and Stitham reviewed on Meserve’s laptop computer pictures he took of the attack’s immediate aftermath.

In a trembling and occasionally stammering voice, Stewart explained how she was placed in a medically induced coma for three weeks after having nearly died four times in the ambulance. Surgeons had to amputate her right arm above the elbow. Stewart came home from the hospital on Dec. 10.

Stewart’s life is now a series of doctor’s appointments and thrice-weekly blood tests to check her Coumadin levels, she said. Coumadin is a prescription drug that helps prevent deadly blood clots that could result from her injuries.

“I have nightmares, and when I talk about this, I stutter. I never used to,” Stewart said. “I am scared to go out the door now.”

After she had crawled back to his trailer, Adams saved her life by wrapping her in a curtain he tore from a window and in a jacket of his that she hated, Stewart said.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Don’t let me die,’” she explained. “He was my angel.”

Stitham pointed at a picture.

“That’s the jacket you hate?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” Stewart said with a big laugh.

“These are taken about 1½ hours after the attack,” Meserve said. “I have been to homicide scenes where I have seen less blood.”

Stewart’s medical bills for the attack top $230,000, she said, adding that she is not sure how she can pay them. When she had finished telling the judge what she wanted him to know, Stitham thanked Stewart for her candor.

“You are a most extraordinary woman,” he said.

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