METHUEN — A local woman nearly lost her life while walking the beloved family dog late last month in what police are calling "a horrible accident."
To make matters worse, her family is still searching for their 4-year-old female chihuahua, Pancha, who ran away after the accident.
Around 10 p.m. on March 25, Juana Interiano, 46, was walking Pancha near the mailbox at the end of her driveway on Pine Tree Drive.
A car driven by a resident of the Emerald Pines neighborhood, believed to be in his 20s, struck Interiano, sending her up onto the hood of the car and into the windshield before she rolled onto the ground, according to Methuen police Capt. Randy Haggar.
"It just appears to be a horrible accident at this point," said Haggar, noting that no charges have been filed against the driver, whose name was not available. Haggar said she was lucky she wasn't killed.
Interiano has been at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston since the accident and has undergone multiple surgeries. She is scheduled to be moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital where, her son Jason said, she has a long road to recovery.
"My mother is a very strong person and we have to be strong for her," he said.
Meanwhile, the family is still searching for Pancha, who hasn't been seen since the accident. Family members have canvased the neighborhood and adjoining woodlands for the long-hair/short-hair chihuahua mix, Jason said.
The dog is more than just a family pet, however. She has become a companion dog for another one of Juana's sons, Anderson, 21, who suffers from a genetic disorder that has left him blind and suffering from various other hardships, he said.
"The dog is family to us and has sentimental value," Jason said. "When I brought the dog home (Anderson) warmed right up to her. She's a very comforting presence for him."
The family has put out 200 signs offering a reward for the dog, and has reached out to local veterinarians, the MSPCA and other agencies to be on the lookout for the dog.
"We searched a three-mile radius from the house, checked all corners of our property, and we called the Haverhill and local animal control officers," he said. The family has also enlisted the help of an organization called Missing Dogs Massachusetts, a nonprofit that has a Facebook page with thousands of followers.
Haggar said the investigation into the accident is ongoing.
Based upon a neighbor's security video, it appears that while Interiano was walking Pancha, the dog ran across the street, followed by Interiano. The dog was running back across the street, again followed by Interiano, who seemed intent on keeping an eye on the animal.
That's when the car — a Subaru sedan — hit her. Haggar said the driver was also looking at the dog, which had just crossed in front of him, and couldn't react quickly enough to avoid hitting Interiano.
Haggar said the driver stopped immediately and "tried to render aid."
Based upon a review of the video recording — and the fact that Pine Tree Drive is a private way — no charges have been filed, Haggar said.
He said it doesn't appear that the car was speeding. Further, when an accident happens on a private road, police don't have the same scope of charges they could file against a driver.
"Because it's a private way and not a city-accepted street, we are limited on motor vehicle charges," he said, comparing it to what might happen if someone got into an accident on The Loop property, which is privately owned.
"If it's private property, we are limited on charges for speeding and things like that," he said. "If you found or determined the person was negligent, you could put in charges for negligent operation."
If anyone has information about Pancha, call Jason Interiano at 978-973-3440.