The trial of a Canyon Lake couple charged with negligence after an elderly neighborhood resident in 2013 was mauled and killed by dogs finally began Tuesday after 15 postponements over the last five years.
Seven men and seven women were seated as jurors and alternates before opening statements were delivered before 433rd District Court Judge Dib Waldrip in the trial of Peter Scott Lucas, 54, and his wife, Rachelle Kay Lucas, 52, whose pit bulls, mauled Betty Clark, a 75-year-old neighbor, on the evening of Dec. 21, 2013, authorities said.
Both defendants pleaded “not guilty” on charges of criminal negligence — formally an attack by a dog resulting in death — a second-degree felony punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and between two and 20 years in prison.
“This case is about responsibility and accountability,” said Assistant Criminal District Attorney Jessica Frazier, adding witnesses saw the dogs beat a retreat back to the Lucases’ home, where Comal County Sheriff’s Office deputies discovered several holes dug under a fence surrounding the home.
The dogs escaped, Frazier said, and were roaming before they mauled Clark as she walked home after visiting a neighbor.
“Their dogs attacked Miss Betty because they failed to effectively secure their property,” Frazier said. “And 16 days later, Miss Betty died as a result. .. You have to ask what their responsibility was in this and then hold them accountable for their actions. They failed to do what a reasonable person would have done.”
Defense attorneys Tommy Vaughn and Deborah Wigington, respectively representing Rachelle Lucas and Peter Lucas, said there were flaws in CCSO’s investigation of the incident. They said it relied heavily on statements of two witnesses — both neighbors who fired shots to disperse the dogs from attacking Clark — who were later convicted of crimes that sent them to prison.
“There are two tragedies,” Vaughn said. “The first one is that Miss Betty was the victim of a mauling by dogs and that she died of her injuries. But the second tragedy is blaming this on Pete and Rachelle Lucas.
“It comes down to two meth-heads who have told different versions of the events,” Vaughn added. “The investigators had their minds made up, but what we can tell you is that the dogs who attacked her weren’t the Lucases dogs – I think it was probably (the witnesses’) dogs. But even if it were their dogs, they certainly aren’t criminally negligible.”
According to Comal County Sheriff’s Office reports, Clark was attacked by two dogs at the intersection of Deer Valley and Overhill streets in Canyon Lake. Found unresponsive with bites on her limbs, torso, abdomen and head, she was airlifted to University Hospital in San Antonio, where she died Jan. 6, 2014.
The dogs only attacked Clark. After calling 9-1-1, the neighbor Clark was visiting suffered a heart attack and was transported by ambulance to Christus Santa Rosa Hospital-New Braunfels and later released. The county’s animal control department later confiscated the dogs, which were quarantined and euthanized days later.
The Lucases weren’t charged until June 4, 2014, when a Comal County grand jury handed up an indictment charging both “did then and there with criminal negligence, fail to secure a dog or dogs and one or more of those dogs made an unprovoked attack on another person, namely Betty Clark.”
Both were arrested June 10, 2014 and released the same day from Comal County Jail after posting $15,000 bond. Since then, their trials — scheduled either together or separately — have been postponed 15 times, most recently on Jan. 28, 2019.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys believe the trial, limited to deciding guilt or innocence of the defendants, could last into next week.