Local News

Friday, Feb 04 2011 05:58 PM

Lamont man stabbed to death by cockfighting bird

BY JEFF GOODMAN, Californian staff writer jgoodman@bakersfield.com

Cockfighting can be a fatal activity, not just for the roosters.

A 35-year-old Lamont man died Sunday after being stabbed in the leg by a sharp blade that was attached to a fighting bird, authorities said.

Jose Luis Ochoa was taken to Delano Regional Medical Center shortly after Tulare County sheriff's deputies were dispatched to a reported cockfight near in the intersection of Avenue 24 and Road 128, about three miles north of the Kern County line and west of Highway 99.

An autopsy Wednesday revealed that the accidental death was caused by an injury to Ochoa's right calf, according to a Kern County Sheriff's Department news release.

"I have never seen this type of incident," said Sgt. Martin King, a 24-year veteran who noted the major arteries that could have been severed. "People have been known to bleed out from those injuries if medical attention is not obtained immediately."

King said Ochoa and others fled when deputies arrived at the alleged cockfight, a gambling event in which birds armed with razor-like knives fight each other -- often to the death.

Deputies, who were tipped off by an anonymous caller Sunday, found five dead roosters and other evidence of cockfighting at the scene, King said. No arrests have been made and no citations have been written in connection to the incident.

Ochoa's death caught the attention of John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy for the Humane Society of the United States.

"It's pretty rare, but I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often considering the knives they put on those birds," he said. "It's not a surprise that somebody got killed."

The status of the crime in the state is surely related to its continued existence, Goodwin said. Cockfighting, raising gamecocks, being a spectator and possessing related tools are all misdemeanors in California, although a second cockfighting offense is a felony.

California is an "attractive destination" to people involved in cockfighting, Goodwin said, especially considering nearby states like Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico punish the crime as a felony.

"We have seen a steady stream of activity in states with weaker laws," Goodwin said.

In March 2008, local law enforcement officials broke up an illegal cockfighting operation in the 2700 block of Trust Avenue in east Bakersfield.

In November, five men were arrested after Kern County sheriff's deputies responded to a large cockfighting ring in the 200 block of East Curnow Road, south of Bakersfield. Three guns and hundreds of birds were found at the scene.

In addition, a man in India was killed last month when his fighting rooster slashed his throat, the London-based Daily Mail reported.

"This is a sport that is popular in other parts of the world, and they have brought that interest to Kern County," Public Health Director Matt Constantine said. "It's illegal and inhumane, but we have not seen a decline."

Ochoa, for one, had participated in cockfighting before Sunday. Last year he paid $370 in fines after pleading no contest to one count of owning or training an animal for fighting, according to Kern County Superior Court records.

In comparison, Goodwin said, a bettors' pot can reach $10,000 even in a relatively small cockfight.

"The money adds up fast, and that's why we need strong penalties," Goodwin said. "For a law to be a deterrent, the penalty has to be greater than the gain of breaking the law."

In most cases, the roosters suffer the worst injuries. They usually have been injected with antibiotics and steroids, Constantine said. The spurs on their legs and the combs on their heads are often cut off. Rehabilitation is "a real challenge," he said.

It behooves law enforcement agencies to continue cracking down on cockfighting because there are often other crimes involved, Goodwin said.

"The people who do this don't wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm gonna be a good, law-abiding citizen,'" he said.

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