August 29, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Witnesses to fatal attack on jogger describe dogs as 'hanging from him'

Lapeer— The first person who tried to help a Livonia man during a fatal mauling testified Friday the two large dogs were “hanging from him” before being chased off with gunfire.

Edward Elmer said he was on a riding lawnmower cutting his lawn along Thomas Road in Metamora Township and waved to jogger Craig Sytsma just minutes before the July 23 attack by the Cane Corsos.

When Elmer heard Sytsma screaming he tried to go to the man’s aid but backpedaled when one of the animals looked at him menacingly. He then yelled to his girlfriend, Helen Barwig, “to get a gun,” he testified during the second day of a preliminary hearing for the dogs’ owners.

Elmer said he fired one shot in the air from the .44 Magnum handgun and one dog released its grip on Sytsma and just stood and looked at him as if it was going to attack Elmer. Elmer fired a second shot and heard one animal “yelp” and the two dogs ran off.

Sebastiano Quagliata, and Valbona Lucaj, 44, are both charged with second-degree murder and harboring a dangerous animal in the bleeding death of Sytsma, 46. Lapeer District Judge Laura Barnard will decide if there is enough evidence for them to stand trial on the charges, which carry up to life in prison.

After the dogs ran off, Barwig tried to stop Sytsma’s bleeding with a roll of paper towels.

“It (blood) was pouring out, gushing out,” testified Barwig, who said Sytsma appeared to have suffered deep wounds to his right and left sides.

“At one point he said they got an artery and he was going to die,” she said, her voice breaking.

As they waited for an ambulance to arrive, Barwig, who is an emergency medical technician, said she could not get a pulse from Sytsma, who went limp.

She tried CPR for several minutes but was unable to revive him.

During the rescue efforts, one of the dogs returned and Elmer said he fired again at the animal and it turned away.

Two other people testified Friday they had had been attacked by Quagliata and Lucaj’s dogs.

April Smith, 25, said she and a sister were walking their leashed dogs on Thomas in May 2012 when they were attacked by one of the Cane Corsos, which bit Smith three times in the back of the leg.

Jim Salego said he was walking on the street in November 2013 when he was surrounded by three growling Cane Corsos he kept at bay briefly with a walking stick before one of them bit him in the leg and the animals were called off by Quagliata.

“He (Quagliata) came out yelling ‘Don’t call cops. I will pay. I will take you to the hospital,’ ” said Salego, who said his leg was bleeding and he did call the police.

Salego said the bite required stitches and when he later asked police “what happened to the dogs” he said he was told the matter would be handled by the county animal control division.

Salego and Smith have since sued Quagliata and Lucaj for damages.

In testimony last week, veterinarian Dr. Sherry Wallace said Quagliata and Lucaj were warned weeks before the fatal attack their dogs were dangerous and should be seen by an animal behaviorist.

Wallace testified the two dogs tried to bite her and co-workers during routine examinations to be weighed and had to be restrained by Lucaj and the couple’s teenage children. She warned the couple the dogs were aggressive and dangerous.

The two Cane Corsos and another adult dog that had been involved in a previous attack have all since been destroyed. Seven puppies kept in the home have been turned over to an animal rescue group in Texas, authorities said.

The couple remain jailed in lieu of $500,000 bond each, pending resumption of the exam 1:30 p.m. Sept. 12.

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