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Settlement reached in dog attack lawsuit

Attorneys for the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Department, former Deputy Tom Gaskins and the Carothers family settled out of court Tuesday, thus ending nearly seven year’s of court battles linked to a pit bull attack on 8-year-old Garrett Carothers in December 2002.

According to District Court documents, the Carothers family settled for $500,000, with $100,000 to be paid from the county coffers and $400,000 from Gaskins’ insurer — St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company, a Travelers Company.

The case dates back to Dec. 23, 2002, when two dogs attacked the then 8-year-old Carothers while he was standing on the porch of a neighbor’s house in the Vista Subdivision.

According to sheriff’s department and SUN staff reports, the dogs dragged Carothers off the porch and into the street where they mauled him, inflicting bite wounds to more than 80 percent of the boy’s body, including severe lacerations to his head, ears and face.

After being dispatched to the scene, and after the mauling, Gaskins shot one of the dogs — a pit bull — when the animal lunged at him. The other dog, a Rottweiler-retriever mix, was captured and voluntarily euthanized by David Martinez, the dogs’ owner.

According to court documents, Gaskins and the sheriff’s department faced charges linked to allegations of willful and wanton conduct and breach of contract.

According to the complaint, attorneys for the Carothers family alleged Gaskins was dispatched to the scene of a vicious dog call but did not respond immediately and, in fact, arrived after emergency medical services personnel had already taken Carothers from the scene.

In addition, the complaint alleged that the sheriff’s department had an agreement with the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association to handle complaints of dangerous or threatening dogs but in actuality, did not have the proper equipment or personnel to do so.

Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr said, “We, at all times, have denied those claims.”

Although Starr said attorneys on both sides were prepared to argue their cases over the course of a two-week jury trial, a settlement agreement emerged Sunday with the Board of County Commissioners ratifying the deal following an executive session with attorneys Tuesday.

Following the executive session, Starr said District Court Judge Gregory Lyman approved motions to dismiss the case and released the jury about 11 a.m.

“While we do have sympathy for the Carothers family, we firmly believe in the strength of our case. Today’s settlement was purely an economical decision and provides closure to both the Carothers family and the taxpayers for Archuleta County. May God bless Garrett as he moves forward in life,” the commissioners wrote in a prepared statement.

james@pagosasun.com