Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A man is suing Albuquerque after he says he and his service animal were attacked by a dog during a ride on a city bus last year.
Vernon Lewis, who has one leg and uses a wheelchair, boarded a city bus on the morning of April 13, 2017, with his small dog, Rocco, on his lap.
Minutes later, another person boarded the bus along with an “unmuzzled pit bull,” according to a lawsuit filed by Lewis in state District Court in Bernalillo County earlier this month.
The larger dog then allegedly attacked Lewis and Rocco without provocation, injuring them both.
“Allowing the pit bull on the bus without proper restraints constituted negligence in the operation of that vehicle,” the lawsuit says.
Security camera footage of the incident shows the man and a large dog boarding the bus after Lewis.
The driver of the bus can be heard asking if the animal is a service dog, and the man responds, “Yes,” then, “He won’t bite anyone.”
After briefly sniffing Rocco, who was still on Lewis’ lap, the larger animal appears to attack the smaller dog amid a cacophony of shrill yelps.
Lewis fell from his wheelchair in the ensuing chaos.
The driver then asked the man with the larger dog to get off the bus, which he did.
Lewis’ attorney, David Berlin, said Lewis’ hand was injured in the incident and he required medical attention at University of New Mexico Hospital.
Berlin said Lewis was unable to afford veterinary care for Rocco.
Rocco died weeks after the incident, but Berlin said it is not known what caused the dog’s death.
The lawsuit names the city and the city Transit Department as defendants. Lewis is seeking compensation for his injuries and legal costs.
“The driver let (Lewis) on, accepting responsibility for his well-being,” Berlin said in an interview Wednesday at his Downtown Albuquerque office. “Mr. Lewis didn’t do anything to cause the incident.”
Only service dogs are allowed on city buses, Transit Department spokesman Rick De Reyes said, and that does not include emotional support or comfort animals.
Berlin said Rocco was trained to alert Lewis when he was about to have a seizure. Lewis began having seizures after a motorcycle crash in which he also lost his leg several years ago, the attorney said. Rocco was “taking classes” to become an officially certified service dog, Berlin said.
City policy dictates that drivers should ask the owner of any animal boarding the bus if it is a service animal, De Reyes said.
Then, drivers are to ask what task the animal performs. Federal law stipulates they may not ask for documentation of an animal’s service certification.
“Our driver did not properly follow procedure,” De Reyes said after watching the footage, in which it does not appear the driver asks the owner of the pit bull what tasks it performs.