GMA: Road Rage Dog Case Goes to Trial

ByABC News via logo

April 16, 2001 -- The man suspected of killing a California woman's beloved dog by throwing it into oncoming traffic is finally getting his day in court.

It's been 14 months since Sara McBurnett's dog, Leo, was thrown into a busy lane of highway traffic by a disgruntled driver.

Last Thursday, a Santa Clara County, Calif., grand jury indicted 27-year-old Andrew Burnett, who faces charges of animal abuse. Burnett, a former telephone repairman, has pleaded innocent to the dog's death. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted of killing, maiming or abusing an animal. He already is jailed on unrelated charges, and the trial is set to begin June 4.

Although she feels it is good that the case is headed to court, McBurnett still struggles with the memory of the horrible day she lost Leo. She went through the details of her veterinarian's attempt to save him on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.

"I carried him in, they attempted CPR for about 10 minutes, but he was gone," said McBurnett. "It was the most devastating event in my life."

Flung Into Traffic

The incident began after she accidentally tapped the black SUV in front of her while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic near the San Jose International Airport.

McBurnett says that when both cars stopped, Burnett jumped out and began screaming at her, and she rolled down her window to apologize. Her dog Leo, a bichon frise whom she called "my best friend for 10 years," jumped in her lap.

That's when he reached in, grabbed the dog, and flung him into the oncoming traffic lane, McBurnett said. She tried to get Leo back but couldn't reach him in time.

While McBurnett tried to save the animal's life, the driver of the SUV sped off, leaving the scene.

"I could see my dog, right within eight feet of me, get run over by acar right in front of me, and it ran right over the middle of hislittle body," she said.

McBurnett frantically called 911 and rushed her dog to an emergency animal clinic. She carried him in, and the staff tried CPR, but her dog was dead.

Pet lovers all over the world expressed outraged and opened their wallets, raising nearly $120,000 to find the killer of the little fluffy white dog that became a symbol in the fight against animal abuse.

Web Site Fuels Investigation

The police took basic information, but McBurnett felt they had somewhat given up on the case. So she took matters into her own hands and had a friend create a Web site about the case. The site,, had a description of the incident and based on the sketchy information about the car, people could send in possible leads.

Many people sent in images of people who were possible suspects, and images of vehicles that fit the description. Several sent pictures of Burnett, who they said they had seen driving a black SUV in a wild manner, McBurnett said.

She also hired a private investigator to deal with the leads. His services were funded with a contribution from an animal rights organization, called Our Animal Wards.

A break in the case occurred when police began looking into the background of a 27-year-old San Jose resident who disappeared Dec. 8 while on the job as a Pacific Bell repairman. He was reported missing along with a company van and tools and equipment worth about $68,000.

Detectives looking into the missing persons case thought the employee fit the profile of the man sought in the road rage incident.

Then he had been identified by name and job in an anonymous e-mail sent to the Web site seeking tips in Leo's death. The e-mail was turned over to San Jose police. His vehicle, a black sport-utility vehicle with Virginia license plates, matched the vehicle witnesses said was involved in the airport fender bender and the California Highway Patrol connected Burnett to Leo's death.

Burnett is already in jail for other charges. He's been jailed since December for stealing thousands of dollars worth of equipment from his former employer, Pacific Bell, and for lying to get out of a speeding ticket.

Though she says Leo could never be replaced, McBurnett has gotten a new dog. Her mother and husband bought her a new bichon frise named Stormy.

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