Two dogs were fighting for their lives in intensive veterinary care Tuesday after a wild chase involving Gretna police officers Monday afternoon ended with a burglary suspect running over the dogs in Coliseum Square in the Lower Garden District.
Jojo, a 17-year-old mixed breed, and Breezy, an 8-year-old border collie named after Saints quarterback Drew Brees, both suffered serious injuries, said Anne Bell, director of the Southern Animal Foundation.
Bell said she fears the incident — which ultimately resulted in the arrest of 22-year-old burglary suspect Brandon Barthe — could have been far worse.
Children were nearby as Barthe's vehicle careened through the park and hit the dogs, which lived at the animal foundation’s nearby headquarters, she said.
The chain of events began about 5 a.m. Monday when officers received a call about a burglary near Tulip Drive and Stumpf Boulevard, Gretna Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana said.
Responding officers were told that the burglar had run across the street into an apartment complex, Christiana said. But he said the man, later identified as Barthe, was able to escape through a rear window.
Detectives began canvassing the area and found a Nissan Murano that they believed belonged to the burglar. About 3 p.m., officers spotted Barthe driving it and took off in pursuit, Christiana said.
The chase proceeded over the Crescent City Connection and into New Orleans.
Christiana said his officers notified both the state Department of Public Safety, which patrols the bridge, and the New Orleans Police Department about the chase.
Dawne Massey, an NOPD spokeswoman, disputed that account. She said New Orleans police were not aware of the chase.
Barthe took the Tchoupitoulas Street exit coming off the bridge and continued upriver to Orange and Camp streets, where officers lost sight of him, Christiana said. Even after ending their pursuit, the officers continued to canvass the area in an attempt to find him, according to the deputy chief.
About 3:30 p.m., Barthe crashed into Coliseum Square, where two employees of the animal foundation were walking Jo-Jo and Breezy, Bell said.
“They were able to dive for the bushes, but they couldn’t get the dogs out of the way,” she said.
Jojo’s hip was dislocated. Breezy suffered several broken bones. “You can see track marks on the abdomen,” Bell said.
But it wasn’t just dogs whose lives were at risk. Bell said parents were grabbing students out of the way as the youngsters were leaving the nearby International School of Louisiana.
The Murano passed close enough to one of her employees that he could feel it, she said.
Christiana said the Gretna officers arrived about two minutes later and followed the marks left by Barthe’s Murano into the park. But he maintained that his cops were not in pursuit of Barthe when the dogs were struck.
When the officers "realized they were in a park," they drove back onto the street, Christiana said.
Barthe got away from the park, according to police. But about 7 p.m. he was spotted behind a hotel on the West Bank Expressway in Gretna and was taken into custody, Christiana said. He was booked on simple burglary, aggravated flight from officers and a probation violation.
Whether Barthe will be booked in connection with anything that happened in Coliseum Square — including running over the dogs — is an open question.
Massey said the case belongs to the Gretna Police Department.
However, Bell said she believes the dog’s injuries should be investigated by the NOPD because the incident occurred in New Orleans and its police have jurisdiction there. She expressed fear that the man who she said ran over her clinic’s beloved in-house dogs could get away with his crime.
Bell said she does not know what will happen to Jojo and Breezy. Both are expected to undergo surgery.
“I don’t know at the end of the day what’s going to happen, but they’re in the best hands. All we can do is pray,” she said.