The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 5, 2007

K-9 battling cancer tracks suspect

Amelia A. Pridemore

Advanced cancer has not stopped a Beckley Police K-9, police say, and the strong-willed Rottweiler stopped a fleeing theft and battery suspect in his tracks.

Duane Hammock, 50, of Mount Hope, is charged with first-offense shoplifting, battery, obstructing a police officer and public intoxication by the Beckley Police Department, said Sgt. Frankie Shelton.

Raleigh County Magistrate Rick Jones said Hammock was too intoxicated to be arraigned Wednesday night, but Jones did set bond at $1,000. Hammock posted it, and he will be arraigned Thursday morning.

A condition of Hammock’s bond is staying out of all Wal-Mart stores, Jones said.

Around 4 p.m., city officers were dispatched to the Beckley Wal-Mart because an accused shoplifter was reportedly drunk and combative, Shelton said. They were told Hammock placed a kerosene heater and kerosene gas can into a shopping cart, pushed the cart past registers and asked customer service employees to refund the items.

After Hammock was given a refund, he was approached by Wal-Mart loss prevention officers, Shelton said. The loss prevention officers tried to prevent Hammock from leaving, but he shoved one officer and threatened to shoot her. Hammock fled on foot toward Sam’s Club.

Cpl. Will Reynolds, a K-9 officer, and his dog Merlin responded to the scene to track Hammock, Shelton said. The pair found Hammock at the Heartland Nursing Home off Stanaford Road, and Shelton and Patrolman C.D. McCormick took Hammock into custody.

Hammock was not armed when taken into custody, Shelton said.

Shelton said Hammock was uncooperative, belligerent and “obviously intoxicated” when he was arrested. Hammock gave police a false name, date of birth and Social Security number, but officers determined his true identity after further investigation.

Merlin, Shelton noted, was largely responsible for police finding Hammock — even though Merlin is battling advanced cancer. Merlin has been diagnosed with Stage 5 lymphosarcoma, a form of cancer affecting his lymph nodes. Statistically, a dog with this type of cancer only has 1-3 months to live. Despite his diagnosis, Merlin remains on-duty with the police department — because officers say he is active and eager to work.

“He’s the one who flushed this suspect out,” Shelton said of Merlin. “If it weren’t for Merlin, we would not have found the suspect.”

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