By JAY REEVES, Associated Press
LAKE MARTIN, Ala. – A dog named Cletus died July 16 after being struck by a boat near Goat Island on Lake Martin, and now the Elmore County sheriff says the boat driver will be facing criminal charges – though it is not certain whether the charges will be designated as a misdemeanor or felony.
This decision will be determined by a grand jury and the dog’s owners, the latter of whom have refused to sign a misdemeanor warrant deemed fitting by the 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office in hopes of signing a felony warrant, said Sheriff Bill Franklin. In the meantime, the owners could still sign the misdemeanor warrant.
“I do not know what their intentions are, but right now I can tell you that I’ve talked to them, and they are OK being subpoenaed and being able to come down here and testify before the grand jury and try to explain to them exactly what they witnessed and what they saw,” Franklin said.
Cletus died “as a result of the negligence” by a man who was driving a boat on Lake Martin, Franklin said. The incident happened near Goat Island, a popular gathering spot where visitors can meet and feed goats.
A banner on the island states, “No Dogs Please,” and goat owners Ricky and Stacie Baker have asked that no dogs be brought to the island in an effort to protect the goats through their Facebook account.
Cletus, who was in the water and approaching a boat, died after the dog’s owners tried to warn the boat driver, Franklin said.
“It’s our understanding that the victims tried to hail the driver of the boat, tell him, ‘Hey, there’s a dog out there. If you could, hey, you need to slow down, you need to stop your motor or you’re going to hit the dog,'” Franklin said. “The dog died as a result of striking the boat, and I think the propeller hitting the dog.”
An attempt to reach Cletus’ owners, Becky and Rusty Jones of Woodstock, for details about the incident was unsuccessful.
Reaching out to goat owners Ricky and Stacie Baker, the Opelika-Auburn News received a comment from the Bakers’ Facebook account.
It said, “We were not present at the time of the incident, and there seems to be 2 very different sides of the story.
“Any facts that you need, you would have to contact the Elmore County Sheriff Department. We are considering letting the goats stay since there has been an overwhelming amount of support from the lake community. However our main focus is keeping our goats safe, they are our pets.
“Everyone has been outraged of the fact that the goats may be removed due to issues with dogs that have been a problem numerous times throughout this summer.”
Afterward, on the Goat Island of Lake Martin Facebook page, the Bakers posted, “We are so humbled from the support we have received, WE HAVE DECIDED TO ALLOW OUR GOATS TO STAY! Our main concern is keeping them safe as they are our pets.
“We are hoping with all the extra awareness and supporters, the goats will be safe there.”
Investigators have gotten versions of the story from Cletus’ family and the boat driver, said Franklin.
“But, nonetheless, you’re not going to erase the fact that a dog died pretty much a tumultuous death there,” Franklin said. “I mean, that’s a pretty horrible death.”
Franklin also remarked that he was the one who got in touch with the district attorney’s office to see if the case could be presented despite it being deemed a misdemeanor.
“And usually 99 percent of all your cases that are presented to a grand jury are felony cases,” Franklin said. “But what we’re going to do is we’re going to present this case and let the victims come and talk to a panel of grand jurors and try to explain to them exactly what they saw.
“The grand jurors, upon hearing that testimony, in all likelihood, I feel very confident they’ll either return an indictment on the misdemeanor statute or the felony statute. And whichever one they return, then we will pick up the responsible party.”
The case will likely be presented around the first week of October, Franklin said.
“It’s not something that’s done every day, but because the people are not desirous of signing the warrant that the DA’s office wants them to, that’s what sort of throws us into a grand jury version of this,” Franklin said. “So it’s going to take a little bit, but we’ll get justice for Cletus the dog.”
Meanwhile, signs continue to be posted on Goat Island requesting that no dogs be allowed to roam the island, as numerous fans of the animals have commented on social media that it frightens and threatens the popular community-shared pets.