UNION CITY -- What may have begun as typical child's play ended in a "tragic accident" Monday morning, police said, as a 6-year-old boy died after being bitten by the family dog at a Union City home.
The boy, identified as Nephi Selu, was playing in the backyard of his grandparents' home in the 32400 block of Elizabeth Way just after 11:30 a.m. when the dog -- a young pit bull mix -- bit him on top of his head, Union City police Cmdr. Ben Horner said Tuesday. The boy, he said, may have tried to climb onto the dog's back before he was bitten.
"It appeared the young child was engaging in some type of horseplay with the dog," Horner said.
The dog's owner, a San Mateo police officer, pulled the animal off the child, who was his nephew, according to attorney Michael Rains.
Rains said he was told by family members that the boy was talking, conscious and lucid after the attack and so the owner of the dog thought he was fine, only in need of a few stitches, and went to work. Alameda County fire spokeswoman Aisha Knowles confirmed Tuesday that the boy was alive when he was taken by ambulance to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto.
He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after 4 p.m., police said.
"The preliminary investigation suggests it was a tragic accident but our detectives will continue to interview family, neighbors and first responders as is protocol in these types of cases," Horner said.
Rains said he went to the Union City home Tuesday because the owner of the dog is a police officer represented by the San Mateo police union -- a client of Rains' firm -- but that the firm had not been retained by the family.
"This is not a case of criminal liability. It's just a terrible accident. This is just the nicest family, great kids." The owner of the dog has seven children of his own, and the boy who died and his mother also live in the home where the attack occurred, Rains said.
The dog was taken to the Tri-City Animal Shelter in Fremont and will be held for a standard 10-day quarantine, Horner said. The dog was in compliance with his anti-rabies shots and licensing requirements, he said.
It was uncertain on Tuesday whether the dog would be euthanized, authorities said.
Police said they are also looking into whether another dog was at the home at the time of the attack, but Horner said it's clear from first responders on scene that there was only one dog involved in the attack.
Rains said all the children "rough house" and play with the dog regularly. "This dog has never even barked at these kids, never showed any aggressive (behavior)," he said. "You can't figure out what happened. He was just playing with him and the next thing that happened is the dog bit the child."
A "Beware of Dog" sign was posted on a wooden fence next to the two-story, beige-colored home, but neighbors who have seen the family's dogs out and about said they were always on a leash and gave no hints that they might be vicious.
"It was an accident. It's such a shame," said Arthur Kouns, 41. "The dogs always appeared very friendly, always wagging their tails."
Kouns said the home belongs to Nephi's grandparents and that several other family members live at the address. He had been living there for some time.
"It's a friendly family," Kouns said. "Good people."
Although multiple cars lined the home's driveway Tuesday, no one appeared to be home. The family did not return a call for comment.
Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469 and follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund. Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH. Contact Kristin J. Bender at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her at Twitter.com/kjbender.