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Claim filed against city for coyote attack on toddler near Huntington Beach pier

Orange County Register 9/22/2022 Laylan Connelly, The Orange County Register

The mother of a 2-year-old attacked on the sand in the dark of night last April in Huntington Beach has filed a claim against the city, alleging that despite knowing about a growing coyote population in urban areas, the city did not do enough to keep the public safe.

Lawyers of Bree Anne Lee Thacker held a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 22, to announce the claim following the attack on her daughter, which was caught on a Surfline.com camera just north of the Huntington Beach Pier.

The little girl was taken to the hospital for gashes and cuts to her neck and head, according to lawyers representing Thacker.

“She is scared physically,” said attorney Sam S. Soleimany of DeWitt & Algorri. “Kids are resilient, but she has emotional reactions to seeing anything that looks like a coyote, dog or cat.”

The attack happened about 9:45 p.m. April 28.  The video from the Surfline.com camera showed a woman holding the toddler and taking photos, with another person and child a few feet away just north of the Huntington Beach Pier. The toddler at one point slips a few steps behind the woman. The coyote stops just in front of her for a split moment before tackling the toddler. When the woman walked toward the toddler, the coyote ran away.

Thacker’s first impression was it could have been someone’s loose dog, never imagining it could have been a coyote, Soleimany said. “The girl did not immediately begin screaming. There was nothing to indicate anything crazy was happening.”

The coyote circled back a second and third time on camera, walking the area near the shoreline as another couple walked up, also seemingly unaware of its presence.

A city representative confirmed receipt of the claim, but declined to comment on legal matters.

The claim seeks to “shed light on the culpability of city officials in allowing coyotes to become a community safety hazard and then failing to implement steps to protect citizens from animal attacks,” Thacker’s attorneys said in an announcement of the filing. “At a recent Town Hall meeting, citizens expressed anger and frustration at the increase in coyote attacks.  Many accuse city officials of not taking available steps to reclaim safety in the area, instead placing the burden on citizens to address the growing coyote threat alone.”

The city’s Coyote Management Plan was put in place, the claim argues, for the city to take steps to reduce the risk of injury from coyote attacks, including but not limiting to, education and hazing, aggressive hazing and the creation of hazing teams.

“The city knew of these dangers, not only by an actual inspection of their property and reports by their employees as well as members of the public of other similar attacks, and yet, they failed to warn of the risk.”

If the city denies the claim or takes no action, the door would open for filing a lawsuit in court.

Later during the night after the attack, officers found and shot two coyotes, killing one near Pacific Coast Highway and Goldenwest Avenue. The second coyote, injured by gunfire, ran away from officers and disappeared near the wetlands before it was found under a trailer in a trailer park later that night by officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Orange County animal control and euthanized.

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