By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 63-year-old woman was fatally mauled by a pack of pit bulls while walking near her home in Southern California on Thursday and authorities were still searching for the dogs as darkness fell, law enforcement officials said.
A driver called police Thursday morning to report that four dogs were mauling the woman by the side of a road in the small unincorporated community of Littlerock, near Palmdale, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Captain Mike Parker said.
When a sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene a few minutes later, he found the woman being attacked by one dog, which repeatedly circled and moved aggressively toward him as he approached, Parker said.
The deputy fired twice at the animal, apparently missing, before it ran into the desert. There was no sign of the other three dogs, Parker said.
The victim, who was not immediately identified, died in an ambulance while being rushed to a nearby hospital, Parker said, who said the Los Angeles coroner would conduct an autopsy to determine cause of death.
Authorities were still searching on the ground and by helicopter for the tan-colored dogs on Thursday evening and issued warnings to residents in and around Littlerock, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles.
"Sheriffs deputies are knocking on doors in the neighborhood, patrolling and warning people in the area, but we have not picked up any leads since the deputy fired the shots," Parker said.
Sheriff's detectives, aided by Los Angeles County animal control officers, served a search warrant on a home in the Littlerock area, removing eight dogs, a sheriff's spokesman said in a statement.
It was not yet known if those dogs were involved in the fatal attack, the spokesman said.
The owners of the dogs who attacked the woman could face charges in the case, Parker said.
Members of the woman's family had told police that she walked daily in her Littlerock neighborhood, he said.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Doina Chiacu)