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Chuck Wagons

Witnesses drove on by while dogs ate a man.

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The Strip knows what it's like to be viewed as a mouthwatering piece of meat. So this succulent sirloin sympathizes with Stephen Dixon, the 45-year-old man who was nearly turned into chuck on May 4, when three 50-pound pit bulls attacked him on 23rd Street in Independence.

Dixon was the second of three victims that day. The other human chew toys: Alan Hill, 59, who was found in his Jeep a few blocks away, his face scratched and his right arm gnawed to bone; and Kevin Moore, 50, who'd been mowing his lawn near Haden Street and South Avenue.

The dogs belonged to 43-year-old Paul Piper, who had been squatting in a condemned house, a refuge of torn furniture and dog feces in the 1300 block of Sea Avenue. Piper now faces 10 criminal charges, including aggravated assault.

Dixon faces his own set of troubles. The Strip caught up with him at Truman Medical Center, where a green-scrubs-wearing doctor examined his wounds. Dixon's arms and an ankle were riddled with what looked like deep pencil jabs. His left cheek was purple, with a large fishhook-shaped scar where it had been reattached to his jaw and earlobe. His right collarbone had a 4-inch-long scar where doctors had removed the skin that was sewn in a large discolored patch across his temple.

Meanwhile, his financial and emotional problems are swelling. Dixon has no insurance and now owes thousands in hospital bills. His blood pressure has spiked, and he suffers flashbacks from the onslaught.

An especially horrible moment in the mental replay: The part where a throng of bystanders does nothing to help.

Dixon had spent the sunny afternoon window-shopping in Independence Square and had missed his bus home. He decided to walk and — check the dramatic foreshadowing — was daydreaming about what he'd like to have for dinner.

In an instant, the pit bulls dashed out of a nearby field. One tore a bag from Dixon's right hand while another chomped down on his opposite forearm, pulling him off the curb and into rush-hour traffic.

Cars squealed around him. As soon as he hit the pavement, the dogs were on him. One bit his right wrist; another ripped into his left ankle, pinning him.

Most terrifying was the silence. No growls, no snarls. The beasts weren't angry, just hungry. They tore at Dixon's loose-fitting clothes, working methodically like puppies trying to open a bag of food. Dixon lost track of one dog and looked over his left shoulder to find it; it snapped toward his face, ripping a hunk of flesh from his upper cheek and temple. He watched as the animal gulped it down.

"I was amazed at how wide he could open his mouth," Dixon says.

He turned his head away as the animal lunged again, tearing his lower ear and jaw away from his face. Dixon threw up an arm to shield himself; the dog latched onto the limb and shook it violently to tear off more meat. Blood clogged Dixon's eye and poured through the hole in his face.

Dixon curled up and started screaming. "I was surprised how many people witnessed it," he says. "I thought, This is how I'm going to die, getting eaten in the middle of the street with the whole world looking at me."

He figures something like 40 cars must have passed.

"I remember seeing several cars swerve not to hit me," he says. "I felt like several cars had slowed down but not stopped."

This macho meat patty isn't sure it would be quick to jump into the middle of such butchery, either. But what's interesting is who did finally stop to help.

As Dixon remembers it, a white car and a black pickup truck skidded and boxed him in, possibly in an attempt to startle the dogs. One woman started shouting. Another got out of her car with a golf club and started swinging. When the dogs scattered, Dixon vaulted into the bed of the pickup.

When this sleuthing sizzler tried to track down the heroines, it found just one rescuer: Sonya Osburn, a 22-year-old breakfast manager at the Sonic Drive-In on East 40 Highway.

Osburn says she was driving home from a company meeting when she hit a traffic jam and saw Dixon flailing. First, she thought he was just on the losing half of a good old-fashioned mano-a-mano fistfight. But, she says, after "five or seven, maybe 10" cars drove off, she was close enough to see him being mauled. She heard him scream for help.

"There were people just standing there," Osburn says. She pulled her white Toyota Corolla over, grabbed a four-spoke tire iron (not the golf club Dixon recalls) and charged.

"I didn't even think about what I was doing. I just ran at the dogs, and I had both my arms in the air and I was screaming," Osburn tells the Strip. The dogs ran away before she could make contact. "They gave me this look like, Oh, no, we're in trouble."

Then came the mea culpas. A woman claiming to be a doctor's assistant approached them but couldn't stay calm enough to help. The owner of the pickup said he'd wanted to go after the dogs but thought they might attack him. (Police officers shot the dogs later that day.)

Osburn is still incredulous. She understands that witnesses were scared for their lives. But, she says, "I didn't know how someone can just stand there and watch someone being eaten by dogs."

Dixon is just thankful there are two brave women in Independence. <

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