July 25, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Hear 911 call: Owner wasn't home when dogs killed Livonia man, police say

One of the two cane corsos that mauled to death jogger Craig Sytsma. )

Metamora Township — Nobody was at home when two large dogs left to run loose on their owner’s property took off after jogger Craig Sytsma and mauled him to death, police said Friday.

One minute Sytsma, 46, of Livonia was jogging near his work Wednesday evening around 5:30 p.m. The next he was taken down by the two cane corsos, a breed that averages 90-110 pounds and was originally bred for hunting wild boar and protecting property.

“The jogger was just jogging along the road at an average clip,” said Det. Jason Parks with the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Office. “Nobody actually saw the dogs coming.”

It’s the third injury report since 2012 involving canines from the same property, said Parks. One of the incidents required medical attention.

The Lapeer County Medical Examiner’s Office listed Sytsma’s death as “trauma caused by mauling.” The owner of the dogs, a 45-year-old man, could be charged after the attack. Parks said the sheriff and Metamora Township police are going to combine their investigations next week to deliver a report to the county prosecutor.

“Basically, the position of people is that due to the very traumatic and very severe fatal injury that resulted from these dogs, that these particular dogs are unable to be rehabilitated,” Parks said. “They should be destroyed so they cannot cause another injury or another death.”

Sytsma worked for Eltro Services in nearby northern Oakland County, down the road from where the attack occurred in the 5500 block of Thomas, about 45 miles northwest of Detroit. He was unconscious when he was taken to a hospital, where he died of his injuries, police said.

Police say two neighbors witnessed the attack. A man mowing his lawn at the time actually yelled after the dogs, which did no good, said Parks. When the dogs didn’t respond, the man went to get a firearm. He fired a warning shot, which stopped the dogs only temporarily.

“He was forced to shoot one of the dogs,” said Parks. “He struck the dog and it stopped the attack.”

The shot was only a graze wound, he said.

Another witness tried to perform CPR before police responded, police said.

The cane corso breed is a native of Italy, where the “mastiff-type” dogs were bred to protect property, hunt wild boar and as an “auxiliary warrior” in battles, according to the American Kennel Club’s website for the breed.

Under Michigan law, a person may face involuntary manslaughter or other charges in such an attack. The county prosecutor’s office is expected to review the case and had not filed charges against the dog owner as of Friday afternoon.

Last year, there were 31 deaths related to dog bites in the U.S., according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The association says, on average, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. One in five of those victims require medical attention.

Bob Lantzy, an attorney at Buckfire and Buckfire P.C. in Souhthfield, specializes in dog bite law. He says dog attacks happen in any community.

“I’m taking multiple calls on a daily basis for dog attacks, and we’re just one law firm,” said Lantzy. “I guess people don’t appreciate it because they don’t see what I see. It’s disturbing.”

Lantzy said Michigan law makes the dog owner responsible for any attacks. If a dog bites a person without provocation when the person is on public property, the owner is responsible for any damage.

Owners also can be charged with negligence, depending on the circumstances, if the owner did not properly restrain the animal.

Under state law, the owner of a “dangerous animal” that kills a person can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter and imprisoned for up to four years.

In addition, local ordinances can take into account whether the dogs could be considered vicious, based on the breed or on previous attacks.

If a death occurs, criminal as well as civil charges can be filed.

The cane corsos are still being quarantined at the Lapeer County Animal Shelter, according to the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Office.

In May 2012, there was a report of a dog bite where the animal returned to the same property. In November 2013, a man was taken to a hospital after being bitten by a dog that returned to the address. It’s not clear if those were the same dogs involved in Wednesday’s incident.

On Friday, Metamora police served a warrant at the property and took away a full-grown female cane corso dog as well as a number of puppies, Chief David Mallett said. He said there was also a rumor that the dog owner keeps a falcon on his property, although police did not see the bird Friday.

Some people in past dog attacks in Michigan have been charged. A Livingston County woman whose American bulldogs in September 2007 fatally mauled two people, including a 91-year-old man, was sentenced to prison in 2008. She pleaded no contest to two felony counts of keeping dangerous animals causing death and a misdemeanor charge of allowing her dogs to stray.

(313) 222-2127
Associated Press contributed.

The second cane corsos involved in the attack on Sytsma.
This photo shows taken Thursday shows the stretch of Thomas Road near ... (Amanda Emery / The Flint Journal)