Girl killed by pet dog

Kristen Lee Dutton: Fourth-grader at Merriweather Elementary was bit in the neck by a 98-pound Japanese Akita.

A Merriwether Elementary School fourth-grader died Saturday from injuries she received from a family pet dog, officials said.

Kristen Lee Dutton, 9, was walking the dog by herself Saturday when the attack took place, McCormick County Coroner Faye Puckett said.

"We're not sure what happened to make the dog attack," Puckett said. Family members said the family pet -- which they had had three weeks -- had shown no signs of aggression previously.

The dog, a 98-pound Japanese Akita that was a gift from the child's grandfather, was secured at the family home over the weekend, the coroner said.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said Monday a test for rabies was negative.

The coroner said the girl was walking the dog alone near Modoc Shores on Saturday when the attack is believed to have happened. She was bitten in the neck, and was found by a family member and later pronounced dead at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

Sandra Friar, a spokeswoman for Edgefield County schools confirmed Kristen was a fourth-grader at the school and said counselors were made available Monday.

A funeral is scheduled Wednesday at Posey Funeral Chapel, North Augusta.

State tests dogs

Public health authorities will euthanize the dog and test it for rabies as part of the effort to determine what prompted the attack, said Thom Berry, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health & Environmental Control.

"That program is part of our Bureau of Environmental Health, which has responsibility for rabies programs in South Carolina," he said. "The only way to actually determine whether the disease exists is through brain tissue testing."

Such tests can typically be completed about 24 hours after the tissue is received, he said, and the results will be shared later this week with authorities involved in the case.

Rabies is very common across the state, and people who come in contact with infected animals undergo preventive immunizations every year, Berry said.

Rabies in dogs, he added, is quite rare compared to the vast majority of cases that occur in raccoons, foxes and other wild animals.

-- Rob Pavey, staff writer