A Somerset County Sheriff’s Department official may have gone beyond the call of duty this week in finding the body of a dog that had been missing from a fatal crash in Bingham since Feb. 18.

Chief Deputy James Ross said he and members of the Madison Fire Department went to the storage yard at the sheriff’s office in East Madison on Wednesday and went to work on the car driven by Michael Handy, of Harmony, who was killed in a head-on crash on U.S. Route 201 in Bingham. He had three dogs with him at the time of the crash.

Two of the dogs survived the ordeal, but a third dog, Tootie, was nowhere to be found.

Handy’s fiance, Brenda Cote, 46, also of Harmony, had been frantic looking for the dog.

“It was his dog. They were our dogs, but originally it was his dog,” Cote said Feb. 22, noting that they were to be married in June. “Just the thought of losing them both, it breaks my heart.”

Handy, 46, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, reported about 8 p.m. Feb. 18, 1.5 miles north of the state rest area on U.S. Route 201 in Bingham.

Ross, who said he is a dog owner himself, personally went to check the wreckage of the car, searching for Tootie, a female peekapoo, a cross-breed between a Pekingese and a poodle.

“Yesterday we were able to locate the missing dog Tootie from this crash,” Ross said Thursday in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “Sadly it was in fact killed in the crash.”

Ross said once the reconstructionist had completed the analysis of the vehicle, and knowing the dog had yet to be located, he asked the Madison Fire Department to come with their hydraulic extraction equipment.

He said Madison Fire Chief Don French and a group of Madison firefighters came with their equipment and were able to separate the vehicle fire wall from the dash compartment, which was badly damaged.

“This is where we found the dog, obviously killed instantly in the crash,” he said. “Tootie was returned to her family yesterday.”

Contacted Thursday, Cote said Ross brought her the dog’s body himself.

“I knew she was in the car somewhere and she was,” Cote said. “Yes, he brought her himself — meant so much to me and my family.”

Sheriff Dale Lancaster said Ross was just doing the right thing.

“Most family pets are an integral part of the family structure,” Lancaster said. “When losing a pet, especially to a tragic event, it is emotionally devastating. We felt that personally returning the dog was the right thing to do.”

Cote said she is thankful.

“To me, he went way beyond the call of duty because he knew how badly I wanted her home,” she said. “His family and mine are beyond thankful for her return home and will be laid to rest this spring.”

Ross said he understands the feelings of a dog owner.

“Yes, (I’m) very much a dog person.,” he said. “We have three Yorkshire terriers.”

Ross said the accident still is an active investigation.


Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]



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