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spectr17
01-29-2003, 12:10 PM
New Kent man battles coyote 'tooth and nail'

BY REX SPRINGSTON, RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER

Jan 28, 2003

Jimmy Hawthorne was riding his lawn mower outside his eastern New Kent County home when an animal that looked like a giant fox ran out of the woods and attacked him.

Hawthorne, 50, recognized the animal as a coyote, a stealthy predator that is becoming increasingly common in Virginia.

Using his mower and later a big stick, Hawthorne fought off the animal for more than 20 minutes Sunday before killing it with a shotgun. "It was like a pit bull or something that wanted to bite me," said Hawthorne, who was not injured. "He wouldn't leave me alone."


Tests yesterday proved the coyote was rabid.

For Virginia, the incident represents the first confirmed case of a rabid coyote and the first report of a coyote attacking a person, state officials said. The big male weighed nearly 50 pounds.

Coyotes have been migrating across Virginia from the west and north for years. They are established across the state now.

"I'm not surprised we had [a rabid coyote] now because the population is increasing," said Dr. Suzanne R. Jenkins, assistant epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.

The encounter was serious for Hawthorne but probably does not portend new trouble for other Virginians, Jenkins said.

The predominant strain of rabies in the state tends to spread through raccoon and skunk populations but does not spread far in other mammals, she said.

A coyote resembles a small German shepherd. It is sleek, with a pointed muzzle and a variable coat that runs in shades of gray, yellow, brown, red or black. Coyotes will eat just about anything, including small deer, suburban trash, dog food, rabbits and cats.

Ordinarily, coyotes are shy and reclusive, and not aggressive toward humans.

"We have never had a report like this," said Robert W. Duncan, wildlife director for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "This is unique."

Hawthorne, the owner of Hawthorne Laundries and Dry Cleaners Inc., lives in eastern New Kent on a wooded, 300-acre site.

He described the incident this way:

Hawthorne was riding his mower to blow away leaves about 3:30 p.m. when the coyote ran out of a thicket and tried to bite his leg. Riding about 400 yards from his house, Hawthorne kicked the animal, and it ran off.

Hawthorne tried to ride back to his house, but about 300 yards from home, the mower ran out of gas. The coyote ran up and tried again to bite Hawthorne.

"I kicked him good," and the animal ran back in the woods.

Hawthorne grabbed a stick about 12 feet long, and the coyote came back at him. He whacked and jabbed at the animal while trying to keep the mower between him and the coyote, which was baring its teeth.

"An Olympic gymnast couldn't run around the lawn mower any faster than my fat butt ran," said Hawthorne, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs about 240 pounds.

"I would hit him with the stick, and he would retreat. This went on for probably 20 minutes. . . . I was fighting this animal tooth and nail."

After "I hit him really good and I thought I had hurt him," Hawthorne made a break on foot for the house.

As Hawthorne reached his yard, he looked over his shoulder and saw the coyote trotting after him. "We had another round in the yard, and he went back in the woods."

Hawthorne dashed inside, and the coyote ran up on his steps. Hawthorne grabbed a .40-caliber pistol. When he opened the door, the coyote started moving away. "I shot at him and missed," and the coyote ran off again.

This time, Hawthorne armed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun and rode in his truck to the lawn mower.

"Here he comes back out of the woods. I shot him with the shotgun and killed him."

Nationally, more than 20,000 people get vaccinated each year after being exposed to possibly rabid animals. The disease, if untreated, can be deadly.

Hawthorne could joke a little yesterday, but he knows he survived a dangerous encounter. "It's funny now, but it wasn't funny then."


Contact Rex Springston at (804) 649-6453 or rspringston@timesdispatch.com