Society

Dog Attack: 2 Cane Corsos Kill Jogger; Owners May Face Manslaughter Charges

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Craig Sytsma 46, a resident of Livonia, Michigan, was fatally mauled by two Cane Corsos on Wednesday in Metamora Township, about 45 miles northwest of Detroit.  He later died from the wounds inflicted during the vicious attack by the aggressive dogs originally bred to hunt wild boar in Italy, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Sytsma worked as a metallurgical engineer at Eltro Services, in neighboring Oxford Township, and worked not far from where he was jogging at about 5:30 p.m. on July 23, when the two dogs attacked him, said Metamora Township Police Chief David Mallett.

Craig Sytsma leaves a 16-year-old daughter, Tyra, and 28-year-old son, Luis, and Jordan, 23, who told the Free Press that Craig Sytsma was “a stepfather he considered blood despite a divorce.”  

Jordan said he is deeply concerned about Tyra, a teenager who will now miss the guidance and support of their father.

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Craig Sytsma was described as a family man who deeply loved his children.  He is pictured holding his two-year-old granddaughter Leytah Sytsma.

Jordan said that he is angered at hearing the two Cane Corsos had a history of two previous attacks, “...and to know that on the third incident, they killed my dad, that’s what pisses me off.”

 Jordan told the Free Press he wants people to know that his 46-year-old father was a solid man who “stayed in his lane.”

Systma was also a colon cancer survivor involved in jogging, golfing, hockey and other sports, occasionally riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He loved music, his friends recalled.

Neighbors on Sytsma’s quiet, tree-lined street in Livonia appreciated how he maintained his lawn, even though he was renting his house, according to the Free Press.

Cheryl Hurick, who lives across the street said of his death, “How ridiculously needless.”

PURSUIT OF CHARGES

Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson stated on June 28 that his office could pursue charges of manslaughter and possession of a dangerous animal causing death, according to MLive.com.  

Assistant prosecutor Michael Hodges said in a message to the Livonia Observer that charges could be filed before Friday, when a hearing is scheduled before a district judge in a Lapeer County court to determine the fate of the dogs that attacked and other similar dogs on the property.

Under Michigan law, the owner of a dog involved in an unprovoked, fatal attack on a person can be charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The two dogs were taken to Lapeer County Animal Control, where they were kept in quarantine. The remaining adult dog and seven puppies were taken on Friday from the house and kept at animal control, said Metamora Township Police Chief David Mallett.

“We’re asking to euthanize all the animals…There’s obviously a bloodline here, and they come from that bloodline,” Hodges said.

Hodges called it a "terrifying, one-in-a-million situation.”   They are not huge, but they are quite aggressive," he said. "I've never seen an adult mauling like this.”

Mallett said the dogs are two 3-year-old Cane Corsos, described by the American Kennel Club as a "mastiff type" dog that ranges in size from 23.5 to 27.5 inches tall at the shoulder.

The dogs had escaped from their yard. Police reports show that the two dogs involved in the attacks come from a home where dogs lived that allegedly attacked at least two other people in the past two years.

Detroit-area attorney Glenn Saltsman told the Grand Haven Tribune that he has two clients who were bitten by dogs while walking near the property.

One man "said he thought the dogs were going to kill him," Saltsman said.

The other, April Smith, was attacked in May 2012 as she and her sister walked their dog. Smith sued the owners and reached a $20,000 settlement that has not yet been paid, Saltsman told the Tribune.

"The same Corso charged from the house and just nailed her from behind," Saltsman said. "Bit her pretty good in the calf."

Police investigated both incidents and turned the cases over to animal control officials. The owners were ticketed, but the dogs never were removed, according to Saltsman.

DOG OWNERS IDENTIFIED

The Free Press reported the names of the dog owners on Monday as Valbona Lucaj and Sebastiano Quagliata and said the couple “dealt with few consequences” as the Cane Corso dogs roamed Thomas Road in Metamora.

Lucaj was issued two tickets charging her with civil infractions in November 2013, after one of their dogs bit a man in his 70s, but she never showed up for a court hearing. The couple eventually paid $280 in fines in late January and the case was closed, the Free Press reports.

Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson responded that his office never was notified about vicious dogs biting pedestrians and roaming free in Metamora Township and said he would have taken action to have the dogs destroyed.

He said that, after the attack on the elderly man, animal control officers could have brought the matter to the prosecutor, arguing a pattern of dangerous behavior. “They never notified us,” Turkelson said.

Turkelson told the Free Press he planned to meet with Metamora Township police and Lapeer County Animal Control on Wedneday to determine what went wrong and where any breakdown occurred.

The couple whose Cane Corsos killed Craig Sytsma are in the U.S. illegally and were facing imminent deportation at the time of the attack, the Free Press announced.

Valbona Lucaj, 44, got into the country from Albania in January 1997 and her Italian husband, Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, came as a tourist and never left.  It is unclear what, if any, impact their citizenship status will have on possible prosecution, says the Free Press.

Sources: Free Press, Hometown Life, Grand Haven Tribune, MLive