July 29, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Decisions likely this week on dogs' fate, possible charges for owner in fatal attack

Craig Sytsma of Livonia was killed after being attacked by two dogs along this stretch of Thomas near Brauer in Metamora Township. (Amanda Emery / AP)

Metamora Township — Authorities expect to decide within the next few days whether the owners of two dogs that fatally mauled a 46-year-old jogger from Livonia on a Lapeer County road will face criminal charges.

The Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office will review evidence during meetings with animal control officers, Metamora Township police and county sheriff’s officials and “see what we got,” said Assistant Prosecutor Mike Hodges.

A decision on charges could be made by the end of the week, Hodges said Tuesday.

Craig Sytsma was attacked Wednesday in Metamora Township, about 45 miles northwest of Detroit. He died from his wounds. Sytsma worked not far from where he was jogging.

Hodges described the two Cane Corsos that attacked Sytsma as being about 2 to 2½ feet tall.

“They are not huge, but they are quite aggressive,” he said. “I’ve never seen an adult mauling like this.”

Police have not released the names of the owners of the dogs involved in last week’s attack, but a lawsuit filed by the Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office says Sebastiano Quagilata, who lives in the 5500 block of Thomas Road, registered the Cane Corsos in his name.

Metro Detroit attorney Glenn Saltsman said he has two clients who were bitten by dogs while walking near the property. One used a walking stick in November to beat back adult and juvenile Cane Corsos, Saltsman said.

“He said he thought the dogs were going to kill him,” Saltsman said. “The adult dog bit him in the leg.” The 70-year-old victim had to get stitches, according to court records.

The other bite victim, April Smith of Oxford, was attacked May 15, 2012, as she and her sister walked their dog, according to Saltsman and court records.

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

In that case, Valbona Lucaj, who also lives at the address, was listed as the defendant. She paid tickets worth $285. According to court records, the tickets were issued because the owner “allowed dogs to attack another dog.”

Smith sued the owners and reached a $20,000 settlement that has not yet been paid. Saltsman said he has not yet filed a suit in November’s attack.

Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson said after Smith was bitten, animal control officers went to the house and told the owners their kennel wasn’t sufficient for the dogs. After the incident in November, tickets were issued to the dog owners, but the Prosecutor’s Office wasn’t notified, Turkelson said.

Because Lapeer County’s court system wasn’t updated until June, the officers in the second case couldn’t search for the owners’ names — meaning they didn’t know there had been a previous issue with the dogs, Turkelson said.

“For most animal control divisions of our size, there really isn’t a protocol for when to notify the Prosecutor’s Office,” he said. “One of the things we’ve learned from the situation is that we need to establish criteria for when cases should go to the Prosecutor’s Office.”

The two dogs that attacked Sytsma, a third adult dog and multiple puppies were removed from the owners’ property. A hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday on whether the dogs can be destroyed.

Hodges said it appears the owners were breeding dogs at the property. A message was left Tuesday with their attorney.

Turkelson said at least seven Cane Corso puppies were recovered from the home, and an unknown number had been sold by the owners. He said anyone who bought a dog from the home should contact his office, adding that authorities want to warn the new owners about the animals, not take them.

“Based on our understanding, these are still dangerous,” Hodges said of the puppies.

Detroit News Staff Writer Lauren Abdel-Razzaq and the Associated Press contributed.

A hearing Friday will determine the fate of two Cane Corsos.