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Old August 13th, 2004, 02:02 AM
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Boys first tried to drown puppy they burned, police say
Staff Writer

Oldest charged in theft, cutting of a dog earlier

SPRINGFIELD Two boys accused of fatally roasting a puppy on a barbecue grill first tried to drown the pet, but it survived, police say.

Afterward, the boys, ages 14 and 11, put the puppy on an old gas grill and set it on fire using charcoal, according to police reports.

The burning happened behind a boarded-up home on Carden Circle, part of Springfield's public housing facilities, on July 24.

Neighbor Dregis Freeman, 10, came along, saw the burning under way and tried to help the puppy before it died. He said the other boys said they wanted to see what it tasted like.

''I saw them burning the dog,'' said Dregis, whose nickname is ''Li'l Dee.''

''I saw it, and I saw smoke. I went running back to tell. I was thinking it was mean.''

In other developments, the 14-year-old is charged with stealing and cutting another dog just a few days earlier. Two other boys, ages 10 and 13, also are charged in that case. None had been in trouble with Springfield Police before now.

The boys are believed to be two brothers, a cousin and a friend. Their names have not been released by police, citing their status as minors.

Also, the father of one boy was arrested yesterday and charged with aggravated assault on a neighbor in a fight related to the group of children.

While many adults are asking how any child could torture a puppy that way, they also are praising Dregis Freeman for trying to save the pet.

Dregis went to an adult neighbor's house asking for a bucket of water and a towel to nurse the burning dog. The neighbor called 911 and later confirmed to police that Dregis wasn't involved in the cruelty.

By the time Dregis and the neighbor returned, the puppy had crawled off the grill and made it a few feet away, barking and yelping. It died moments later.

Dregis' mother, Shontell Williams, said she found out about the incident from police, who showed up to question the boy and tell his mother what a good thing he had done.

''He just came in and fixed a sandwich,'' Williams said, shaking her head and smiling. ''He doesn't say much.''

Williams said she was afraid with the accused boys in the neighborhood, even though she hadn't let Dregis play with them in a while because they were causing trouble.

''If they hurt a puppy, what makes you think they won't hurt people?'' Williams asked.

The 14- and 11-year-old boys are facing animal cruelty charges and are scheduled to appear Nov. 18 in Robertson County Juvenile Court.

Lt. William Watkins, head of criminal investigations for Springfield police, said the 14-year-old and two additional boys had been charged in the separate animal cruelty case involving the dog cutting.

Investigators believe the 14-year-old and two youths, ages 13 and 10, broke into the Springfield Animal Shelter and stole a Shar-Pei a few days before the burning incident.

The Shar-Pei is recovering from cuts and trauma, authorities say, and is in the custody of a rescue group.

In another twist to the story, the father of one of the boys was arrested and jailed yesterday on suspicion of beating a Carden Circle resident on the head with a chair leg on July 24 a few hours after the puppy's death.

Patrick O. Smith, 37, is charged with aggravated assault.

Late yesterday he was being held in the Robertson County Detention Facility, with bail set at $10,000.

Investigators said Smith admitted to attacking Will Gregory, 27.

Gregory said Smith broke his arm and shoulder and caused head injuries that required about 50 stitches.

Gregory did not suffer a concussion and is recuperating at home.

''I'm as hardheaded as they come,'' he said with a chuckle. ''I deal with it with laughing and joking.''

The fight involved the group of boys accused in the animal cruelty cases, Watkins said. Gregory believed Smith suspected him of reporting the boys to police in the puppy incident, he said.

Police said Smith told them the attack took place because Gregory was yelling at the boys and throwing bottles at them.

''They are just kids raised up the wrong way,'' Gregory said.

Smith is scheduled to appear Sept. 13 in General Sessions Court on the aggravated assault charge.

Watkins of the Springfield Police said the cases had generated a lot of community interest.

''We've had a lot of people call who are concerned about the whole incident,'' Watkins said.

''They have been upset, and they want to make sure something is being done.''

Kelli Hewett Taylor can be reached at 726-5938, or
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