Accident claims Kennewick man's guide dog

John Trumbo and Paula Horton, Herald staff writersMarch 19, 2010 

KENNEWICK -- Bernard Vinther lost his vision years ago, and now he's lost his best friend and guide dog, Kaber.

Vinther, 65, was hit by a car about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Washington Street and Sixth Avenue in Kennewick while walking home.

Police say Victorino Mendoza, 46, of Pasco, was driving north on Washington. He had just looked over his shoulder to check before changing to the right-hand lane, unaware of the coal black dog, which was in a harness leading his owner across four lanes of traffic dead ahead.

There is no crosswalk, but there is a street light at the intersection.

Mendoza, who works at a Kennewick restaurant, told police he steered his vehicle far enough to the right to almost miss Vinther, who was just entering the far lane. But the car struck Kaber full-on, and ran over him.

Vinther's legs were banged up but not broken. His worst injuries were a cut above his right eyebrow where his head slammed against the windshield, a couple of cracked front teeth and a sore chest where the driver's outside mirror hit his body before it was torn off.

Vinther remembers being spun around and knocked to the pavement. He got up, but Kaber, a 10 1/2-year-old black Labrador and golden retriever mix, lay dead.

"He never made a sound. When I was told what happened, I cried like a baby," Vinther said Thursday morning from his home on East Third Avenue.

Vinther said Kaber was his second guide dog and had been with him, his wife Brenda and their cats for nine years.

"This is like losing a child. Maybe worse -- Kaber was obedient," Vinther said. "I still tear up."

Vinther was examined at the emergency room at Kennewick General Hospital, where he had X-rays and a CAT scan to check for internal injuries. He planned to see a dentist Thursday afternoon for a report on the damage to his teeth.

A few chew toys were next to Kaber's dog bed in the living room as Vinther described how his best friend stuck closer than a brother.

"He's always been nearby, in his bed or with me in the shop," said Vinther, who recently was the subject of a Herald article about his work as a blind machinist. The story also was featured on Spokane public television.

"He'd always bring a toy to me if he wanted to play," Vinther said.

"This dog has helped keep me safe, until now," he said.

It wasn't Vinther's first close call in a pedestrian-car accident.

The first was 16 years ago with a different guide dog but also on Washington Street at First Avenue.

"It was my fault. I misread the traffic flow and we got hit," he said. The injuries were minor and his dog was just bruised and cut.

Without his four-footed companion, Vinther said he will go back to using a white cane and a Braille compass.

"I'm pretty good with those," he said.

Vinther and Kaber were returning from the Kennewick police station on Sixth Avenue after attending a meeting for police volunteers. Vinther was wearing his light blue Citizens Helping In Police Service shirt.

Kaber came to Vinther from Guide Dogs for the Blind, which has training facilities in San Rafael, Calif., and Boring, Ore. Vinther hopes to get another dog, but expects at least a six-month wait because demand exceeds supply.

A representative of the organization was expected to visit Vinther on Thursday to get a report and offer help through grief counseling.

Vinther said he'll remember Kaber as a loyal and trusted companion.

"He'd bark if someone was at the door, but his tail was always wagging. I don't think he was ready for retirement," he said.

The police department's traffic patrol unit is investigating the accident. The case is being forwarded to the city attorney for review as a matter of procedure, said Sgt. Randy Maynard.

At this point in the investigation, it doesn't appear speed was a factor, Maynard said.

It wasn't immediately known if Vinther had put on a jacket that had reflective material or whether Kaber was wearing a harness with reflective material, Maynard said.

For safety, pedestrians are encouraged to wear as much reflective material as possible so they can be spotted by drivers.

"We commonly see people walking, especially in the early morning hours or late evening hours, with a flashlight or some kind of head lamp," Maynard said.

"We want all drivers to be concerned and cautious about any pedestrian, whether they're kids, adults, disabled or not," Maynard said. "Although it's traumatic, physically, for someone to be struck by a vehicle, it's also psychologically traumatic for the driver of the vehicle involved -- even if they are abiding all the laws."

-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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