Mountain bike dog attack case ends with $1 million settlement
EAGLE COUNTY — Renee Legro topped the final hill of a Camp Hale mountain-bike race and found herself riding in the middle of a herd of sheep.
If you’re a Great Pyrenees guard dog, a human on a bike looks like a predator among your sheep, and you kill predators.
Legro was attacked and mauled by two massive Great Pyrenees, a violent collision of the new West and the old. One dog grabbed her right hip and yanked her off her bike, as the other dog pounced. The wounds were massive and deep, but the stitches only touch the surface. Legro’s wounds still reach her very being.
That was July 9, 2008. Legro and the dogs’ owner, Rio Blanco County rancher Sam Robinson, slogged through criminal and civil court for seven years — two misdemeanor criminal trials and civil cases appealed all the way to the Colorado State Supreme Court.
Travelers, Robinson’s insurance company, lost its final appeal and was facing an August civil trial. Travelers finally settled for $1 million.
The case is over, but Legro’s healing is not, said her attorney Joe Bloch.
“Justice is an elusive concept, especially in a case like this,” Bloch said.
The settlement could have been more, Bloch said, but the Robinsons are not rich. Sam Robinson has been a Sunday school teacher. His family has been on their land for five generations.
“They’re salt of the earth people,” Bloch said. “As upset as Renee and Steve Legro were, they did not want to go after the Robinsons’ personal assets.”
It’s over and that’s a relief, but it’s not a victory, Bloch said.
“Victory would have been taking it to trial and giving these people their day in court,” Bloch said.
Old and New West
As the new and old West are forced to co-exist, ranchers and recreationists have clashed for years. This case found itself on the top of that sword, with the Robinsons supported by the ranching and wool industries and the recreation industry rallying behind Legro.
Robinson was convicted of a misdemeanor, owning a dangerous dog. That conviction was overturned on appeal, and a different six-person jury convicted him again.
The courtroom could have been a metaphor for the chasm between the two sides.
During both trials, Robinson’s family, friends and supporters sat on the left side of the courtroom, while Legro’s friends sat on the right. No one from either side crossed over. That paved the way for the Legros’ civil lawsuit.
Sam Robinson spoke eloquently and proudly about his family’s ranching heritage and the life they love. Legros tearfully told of hospitalization, depression and emotional problems, and losing her new speech pathology business.
“I’m not as confident as I used to be,” she said in court “I’m not as strong as I used to be.”
Both juries did what they had to do, but that doesn’t mean they liked it.
“We want to say we do not believe he knowingly owned a dangerous dog that did bodily harm to Renee Legro,” the jury wrote when it handed down its verdict in Robinson’s misdemeanor criminal trial.
The decision to prosecute the misdemeanor case the second time was not complicated, said Mark Hurlbert, district attorney at the time.
“There was a woman hurt by these dogs. People need to know that if they are harmed, we’ll go to the mat for them,” Hurlbert said.
On July 9, 2008, Legro was competing in a Vail Recreation District mountain-bike race at Camp Hale, which drew hundreds of people.
Robinson and his family have grazed sheep on National Forest Service land around Camp Hale for 30 years, and they use Great Pyrenees dogs to protect the flocks from predators.
The dogs, Pastor and Tiny, had no history of attacking anyone, and one was 11 years old, arthritic and losing its teeth, Robinson said.
The dogs were tied during the day so they wouldn’t agitate the sheep, but could still protect the herd of 1,300 sheep from mostly nocturnal predators — mountains lions, bears and coyotes. They were good at their job. Pastor regularly tangled with coyotes. Tiny once chased a mountain lion up a cedar tree.
However, on July 4, 2008, in Camp Hale, a few days before Legro was attacked, one of Robinson’s three guard dogs bit a mountain biker on the buttocks as she was riding. That dog was impounded, and Robinson ordered the two other dogs be tied up during the day. His shepherd used a steel cable.
The Robinsons were on their way back from Oklahoma to their home in Rio Blanco County, and they stopped by Camp Hale to check on their sheep and the men caring for them. They arrived at Camp Hale early in the evening to find race preparations going full tilt.
It was like a zoo, Cheri Robinson said. Bikes, bike racers, four-wheelers, fishermen, RVs and many dogs of all sorts had the run of the place.
The Robinsons said they had no warning about the event.
“No one gave them advance word. If they had, they’d have moved the herd,” said Ted Hess, the Robinsons’ attorney. “This is a classic urban/rural conflict.”
Bloch said he finds that hard to believe. The race wasn’t a surprise, and the July 9, 2008, race day didn’t sneak up on anyone, Bloch said. They’d been setting up the race for two days.
“We’re talking about Camp Hale around the Fourth of July. There were 500 people there, and these dogs don’t do well with anyone around. They’re not socialized,” Bloch said. “The dogs were tied up by the start/finish area. That whipped them into a frenzy, and they attacked the first people they saw. That turned out to be poor Renee.”
Sam Robinson said both dogs were still tied up with a steel cable when he and his wife left Camp Hale and headed toward Meeker, after spending some time talking with their shepherd.
This was Legro’s first race in years, following the birth of their daughter in 2007. She had all kinds of mechanical problems — a broken chain, a flat tire. Most of the racers were done and Legro could have caught a ride with a race organizer, but decided to pedal to the finish.
She was nearing the finish when she topped a hill and rode into a flock of sheep.
She was knocked off her bike by a big, white dog, which started biting her. Another dog soon joined the attack. Legro was bitten around her left eye, torso, right thigh and ankle.
She curled up in a ball screaming uncontrollably. People near the attack heard her screaming and rushed to help, driving off the dogs more than once. After the attack, she kept screaming for hours, even after she was taken to the hospital.
Her screaming stopped only after she finally accepted a dose of morphine.
The number of stitches has been counted between 60 and “hundreds.”
Dr. Jeffrey Resnick, the local plastic surgeon who treated Legro in the emergency room, said he couldn’t begin to count the number of stitches. Resnick said her injuries were “severe,” adding that she was also “severely traumatized.”
The dogs were euthanized 13 days after the attack, after they were identified as the dogs that attacked Legro.
Recreation and ranching
The two sides personify the conflict between ranching and recreation, a conflict certain to get worse as more people find their way into the mountains.
“I cannot bring my dog up to the forest and let it run wild and attack people,” Steve Legro told the Los Angeles Times. “Neither should anyone else.”
“It’s the suburban mentality — they think their milk comes out of a plastic jug, they think their meat comes out of a container,” Robinson told the Times. “They don’t realize you have to live like a Third World person to produce meat in the United States.”
Renee Legro has declined to talk about it outside court.
Robinson stopped using guard dogs, and said the year after the dog attack, predators and domestic dogs killed 26 percent of his sheep.
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