Lana Bergman, 70-years old, was fatally attacked by four pit bulls in Joshua Tree.
No Criminal Charges
UPDATE 03/29/19: Prosecutors have declined to file charges after a woman was killed by four pit bulls in January. Lana Bergman, 70, died of her injuries at the scene. The pit bulls belonged to a couple that parked their broken down bus on her property two weeks earlier. Bergman had agreed that Stephanie Johnston and Daniel Nelson could stay for a few days, but a few days dragged into weeks. On the day of the fatal attack, Bergman had ordered the couple off of her property.
"Thursday, they are being pulled out, no matter if it is raining or what, they have to leave this premises. Joe told them that today in front of me."
The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office said there was insufficient evidence to mount a criminal case. Johnston and Nelson lived with their four children on the converted bus, along with their pack of pit bulls. After the mauling, the bus was towed to a local campground. San Bernardino County Children and Family Services went to the site and determined the couple's children were healthy and were allowed to remain with them, according to the sheriff's department.
KESQ reports the couple could have been charged under Penal Code 399. "If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large, or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while so at large, or while not kept with ordinary care, kills any human being," states the statute, is guilty of a felony. However, Supervising District Attorney Ronald Webster said the owners took steps to confine their dogs.
In February, Johnston told KESQ her pit bulls "are not aggressive" and speculated that a "coyote" inflicted the attack or that Bergman "self-harmed herself." Even after her four dogs brutally killed a person, Johnston claimed her pit bulls are "service dogs." Since the attack, the dogs have been in the custody of San Bernardino County Animal Care & Control. Johnston and Nelson want their pit bulls returned to them, thus a hearing will be held to determine the outcome of the four dogs.
02/17/19: Questions Linger
A month after 70-year old Lana Bergman was mauled to death by four pit bulls, serious questions remain unanswered. The dogs belong to Stephanie Johnston and her husband. The couple and their four children live in a converted school bus with the dogs. Two weeks before the deadly mauling, the family parked their bus on Bergman’s property and began living there. Bergman also had a roommate, Joe Fairbanks, who is apparently "best friends" with Johnston’s husband.
Bergman had agreed the couple could stay for a few days, but a few days dragged into weeks. Bergman essentially had to evict them.
Johnston, described in earlier news reports as a "squatter," looks better today than she did six years ago (along with now living in an upgraded bus). During the interview, Johnston shows no empathy for Bergman and no remorse for the attack. She claims her dogs "are not aggressive" after they tore open Bergman’s throat, killing her. Police said all four dogs participated in the lethal attack. Even after brutally attacking a person, Johnston claims her pit bulls are "service dogs."
A voicemail message Bergman left her sister-in-law on the very day she was mauled and killed stated she wanted Johnston and her dogs off of her property right away. "I just wanted to let you know that everything is taken care of. Alan called Joe [Fairbanks] and told him to go get those people off my property NOW ... Thursday, they are being pulled out, no matter if it is raining or what, they have to leave this premises. Joe told them that today in front of me," Bergman said.
Johnston claims in the interview that Bergman never told her to pack up and leave. "What we were getting [from her] was the opposite," she said.
Leading up to the attack, Bergman had called Fairbanks twice, telling him the dogs were loose. While waiting for his arrival, she texted a friend: "Help, their dogs broke out and they woke me up." Bergman was concerned for her own dog, Hunter. "I had to get them away from Hunter and put the doggy door in, they all around my house. They are in my yard, called Joe twice. I am sooo scared," she wrote. When Fairbanks arrived ten minutes later, Bergman was already dead.
Like many pit bull owners after a violent attack, Johnston loads up on far-fetched excuses, such as speculating that a "coyote" was the culprit or that "somebody murdered her." Johnston blames the victim too, maybe "she self-harmed herself in a blackout." Johnston was apparently at a birthday celebration during the attack. The two people who found Bergman -- Fairbanks and Johnston’s husband -- would not go on camera. Johnston also wants her four pit bulls returned to her.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department’s investigation remains active and ongoing.
01/19/19: Conflicting Accounts
Over the last two days, storylines took a wild swing. The overstaying guests with four pit bulls -- who were strangers to Bergman -- were not parked on Bergman's property in a trailer. Instead, their colorful bus broke down and Bergman allowed them to "camp out" on her property. "Thursday they are being pulled out no matter if it's raining or what," Bergman said in a recent voicemail. "They have to leave the premises." But on Wednesday night, the pit bulls brutally killed her.
"Dead men tell no tales." The only people who can tell police conflicting accounts are alive, including the owners of the pit bulls, a couple from Oregon with four children who outstayed their welcome; Bergman's roommate, Joe Fairbanks, who discovered her body; Bergman's estranged husband, Alan; and her brother Jay Barnett, a Palmdale resident. Fairbanks was also named in her recent voicemail: "Alan called Joe and told him to get those people off of my property now."
This story has become so "bizarre" that at least one scenario claims Bergman (who is dead and cannot defend herself) "attacked the dogs with a sword." Bergman was a huge dog lover. She owned at least one Labrador at the time of the attack and had previously owned three others. The "bizarre" and the "baroque" frequently plays out when police do not identify the owners of the dog or provide identification photographs of the dogs. How is the community supposed to help?
At the very least, thanks to the media, the broken down bus belonging to the pit bulls' owners was depicted, which may be identifiable to residents.
Though facts continue to be murky, Barnett told The Press-Enterprise the time length involved -- a two day stay by the owners of the pit bulls turned into two weeks. This information is vastly different than the police press release, which stated that Bergman had helped care for the dogs "over the past year." Barnett is calling on residents to "call the Morongo Sheriff Station and demand that the owners of these dogs be held criminally liable for the death of my sweet sister."
Bergman also has two sisters, Ilene Cromer and Harriet Sagalow. One told the Hi-Desert Star the length of stay was only 1.5 weeks. Sagalow said the pit bulls had already attacked Bergman's Labrador and were supposed to be kept separate from Bergman and her dog while staying on her sister's property. "She never had any connection with those dogs," Sagalow said. "Just days before my sister was murdered, I have a recording of her saying that she wanted them gone."
01/17/19: Pit Bulls Kill Woman
Joshua Tree, CA - A 70-year old woman is dead after being attacked by four pit bulls, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department stated Thursday. The fatal dog mauling occurred Wednesday in the 59000 Block of Sunflower Drive. Deputies from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station responded to the home about 10 pm. Lana Bergman, 70, and her husband live at the residence with a male friend. Bergman allowed her friend to keep his four pit bulls at her home.
Bergman had been helping to care for the dogs over the past year, according to a release issued by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of the attack, Bergman was alone with the pit bulls. "She was mauled by all four of the animals," states the release. "She succumbed to her injuries a short time later." Animal control took all four pit bulls into custody. "There is no indication the dogs were neglected, as they appeared well cared for," states the release.
KESQ spoke to Bergman's brother, Jay Barnett, who said that Bergman is estranged from her husband, and had been living on the property alone for years -- until recently. Barnett said that Bergman allowed a couple with four pit bulls to park their trailer on her property for a weekend,1 but they never left, despite her objections. "These dogs were loaded guns," Barnett said. "They ended up killing my sister." He said his sister loved dogs, but was not friendly with these pit bulls.
"It's just a sad, violent way to end your life," Barnett told KESQ. "We are all heart broken. We feel guilty because we wish we could have done more, but she thought she could handle it. And people took advantage of her. Her husband took advantage of her," Barnett said. The version of events told by Bergman's brother differs drastically from the Sheriff's Department's version of events. The owners of the pit bulls, who outstayed their welcome, have not been identified.
DATE/TIME: January 16, 2019 10:11 p.m.
INCIDENT: Vicious Animal Attack
LOCATION: 59000 Block of Sunflower Drive, Joshua Tree
VICTIM: Lana Bergman, 70 years old, resident of Joshua Tree
On Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at approximately 10:11 p.m., deputies from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station responded to a report of a vicious animal attack at the 59000 block of Sunflower Drive, in Joshua Tree. The victim and her husband live at the residence with an adult male friend. The victim allowed her friend to keep his four pit bull dogs at her home. The dogs were considered family pets, which the victim helped care for over the past year. On Wednesday, while the victim was home alone with the dogs, she was mauled by all four of the animals. She succumbed to her injuries a short time later.
Animal Control Officers responded and took custody of the dogs without incident. There is no indication the dogs were neglected, as they appeared well cared for. The reason for the attack is currently unknown.
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Morongo Basin Station, at (760) 366-4175. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous may contact We-Tip at 800-78-CRIME or www.wetip.com.
12/19/18: Woman in Anza Pit Bull Attack on Life Support; Vicious Attack Occurred Saturday...
10/12/18: 2018 Dog Bite Fatality: Pit Bull-Mix Attacks Two Family Members, Killing One...
02/26/13: 2013 Dog Bite Fatality: Elderly Woman Mauled to Death by Pit Bulls in Motel Room
Law enforcement departments across the United States should release consistent "baseline" information to the media and the public after each fatal dog mauling, including these items.
I hope the owner of these dogs is held responsible and jailed for a long time. This is murder!
I am so sad how poor Lana died. Such a horrible way to die! I hope those maulers get euthanized because they did murder her. The owner should face criminal charges as well. I can’t believe that she is getting away with this,and she doesn’t feel any sympathy for her loss either. That should raise the eyes of the police. This Johnston person is a very rude an ungrateful piece of trash! Living in a bus with four kids and four pit bulls,that pig is just straight up trash! May God bring swift justice upon this evil woman! This breed needs to be banned,we need BSL! #Banthebreed
I heard that her sister in law works for Judge Judy.
Do not ever allow someone to bring one of these dogs in your home or to your property. Ever. If it’s your own young adult child/adult child and it’s their pet, it doesn’t matter. Don’t ever allow someone to rent a property from you and bring one of these dogs. In fact, don’t ever allow dogs in any rental you may own. There is too much lying and miss labeling of dogs to disguise pitbulls. Don’t ever feel bad for one of them and foster it even for a week. Don’t ever let someone convince you these animals are misunderstood. The only misunderstanding is the myths and out right lies that are perpetuated to put these dogs above all people, all dissimilar dog breeds, and other animals.
I agree. I learned my lesson years ago when a prospective tenant told me she had two mixed breed dogs. I went to look at them to see if they were healthy. The male pitbull, a young adult, was the most vicious dog I’ve ever seen. The two had bred. When I asked the owner what she was going to do with the puppies, her reply was, “Haven’t a clue”. The male was rehomed, probably to a dog fighter. The female, after raising a litter, was dumped somewhere for aggression. What happened to the litter? I can guess. This family knew the male pitbull would kill everything and everybody in sight but didn’t care about all of my dogs and cats that would be killed. The woman was “homeschooled”, I think by Jerry Springer. Both of her parents were in prison while she was being “homeschooled”.
So the other day I was watching one of last season’s episodes of Law & Order: SVU. One of the main detectives on the show has a newborn baby…And a pit bull. (The actress who plays her is a pit fan in real life. )
There’s a scene in which the detective is giving her babysitter the third degree…basically, if a hair on the baby’s head is askew, the sitter is out on her butt, all the while there’s this large pit bull lounging around in the background. I just laughed at how stupid things are these days.
Pit Bull mongers are misunderstood too. They do not care about dog or even pit bull welfare. They do care very much about self, ego, their own patholigical needs and wants, to own, monger and breed fighting dogs.
No one who cares about their favorite type of dog wants that type to become popular. Popularity leads to disproportionate suffering abuse neglect homelessness death. This is all acceptable to bully people.
Proof? Their refusal to accept THE WAY to reduce pit bull suffering and death: mandatory enforced restrictions on breeding
It is beginning to sound like these people ordered the dogs to attack her. Then they call the police and play innocent to make up lies they just found her. Make up lies about how long they have been there, make up lies about her taking care of their dogs. Then when that start to fall through they make up a lie involving a sword. It was probably their sword.
I absolutely agree! Lana wanted them out the day she was murdered,as i read the article so coincidently that same day Johnstons maulers killed Lana.Plus Lanas sister has a recording of her talking about her fear of them mutts and saying that she wanted them out.Johnston showed absolutely no remorse for Lanas death and that should have raised some eyebrows immediately! I hope these mutts get euthanized. That would be sooo wrong if they didn’t cause them disgusting beast will just go on to kill someone else. There’s alot of blood on this skanks hands. I pray that justice will be served and i pray that Lanas family will find some peace. We need BSL! #Banthebreed
Elsie Grace was my art teacher when I was in high school and a wonderful person. I cannot believe this has happened again. Horrible.
Anyone with even one pit bull would have been told to immediately leave my property.
That the dogs were even allowed to live this long is a travesty. The reason they attacked her is irrelevant. They killed a human. That the owners would want them back, that they are even allowed to consider the possibility, is unimaginable. Our society’s love of dogs has reached a dark, scary place.
Farmer Jane,that is so true.The pit hags have created this cult mentality when it comes to this breed. I think it is sickening the way Johnston acted about Lanas death and i find it to be very suspicious. Think about it,the day Lana wanted them out is also the day that she was killed by those maulers,plus Johnston showed no remorse at all for Lanas death and even went so far as to blame Lana for her own death by saying coyotes did it,or that she provoked the mutts with a sword. I say Bull crap! This person is nothing but trash! Lana helped her and this is her way of thanking the poor woman. I hope justice will be served,and that these horrible creatures are put to death! We really need BSL! #Humanlivesmattermore
I’m trying to imagine how the Johnston family lived. When my husband and I were first married we lived in a converted school bus with our two dogs (Springer Spaniel and Border Collie). We were renovating a house and had 60 fenced acres for the dogs to run. Still, the living space was small. Throw in 4 children and 2 more dogs plus a nomadic life style. Yikes.
If they got the dogs back, how would they contain them? Do the dogs live their lives in crates? Traveling from county to county, who would be responsible for making sure these killers were contained? How do you live day to day with 6 humans and 4 dogs in a 25 X 8 space?
These dogs are bred….and inbred….to kill, nothing else. If you can’t find a deserving breed of dog to love other than a pit bull, you shouldn’t have dogs at all!
No justice for the victim whatsoever. Owners are not charged, there’s “not enough evidence”. It should be common sense that if you own a dog, you’re responsible for the dog’s actions, that’s the only way to make people choose breed wisely, train their dogs, and confine their dogs properly. Even the murderous dogs themselves are not euthanized, after brutally killing this woman! Seems like her life was a trifle, not even worth as much as a stinky dog’s life. Owners show no remorse, want those monstrous dogs back! And what is this disgusting babbling about “service dogs”? That’s an insult to disabled people who own legitimate service dogs. It should be illegal to call random dogs “service dogs” unless they’re certified as such. Again, what kind of heartless monster do you need to be in order to want to “take back home” a couple of merciless killers who murdered an innocent woman? Look at them every day, knowing that their faces are covered with blood? Knowing that they can kill your children any minute?
There’s no question that the owners of those dogs are evil, disgusting people, and this poor woman’s blood is on their hands, but so are the local authorities who refuse to euthanize the beasts and charge the owners.
I am so confused by what is happening with the legal system. It seems that you can use a dog as a deadly weapon and have no repercussions. Seems like the odds are in your favor that you get out of jail free when your dog brutally and slowly kills someone. Even when the evidence is clear that you 1. own the dog, 2. are responsible for it being out of your direct control, 3. have a history of this, you can put your odds on getting off scott free. Not only that, the taxpayer will pay to move your home to another site.
I lived with Stephanie in maybe 2010, 2011. She is freaking insane and she doesn’t care about anyone. I can’t believe that she wasn’t punished at all.
When she was living with us, she & her kids all gave us lice & she refused to treat it. She was forced to leave. She stole a bunch of our stuff & then moved out. She does not care about other people at all. I believe that she intentionally murdered this poor woman. Stephanie has dead eyes… Like there’s no life or humanity behind her eyes. I don’t know why she keeps having so many children. She gave her 10-year-old pot brownies. I should have called the police on her then. Stephanie has a world of bad karma coming her way. She is probably the worst person I’ve ever met.