Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson says his office was never notified of vicious dogs biting pedestrians and roaming free in Metamora Township and would have taken action before two of those dogs killed a jogger last week.
“Unfortunately, there were red flags all over the place,” Turkelson said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. Had his office been notified by Lapeer County Animal Control of repeated attacks, he said, he would have taken action to have the dogs destroyed.
Turkelson said he was meeting with Metamora Township Police and Lapeer County Animal Control this afternoon. “We want to determine what went wrong, where if any break down occurred.”
The owners of the dogs, Valbona Lucaj and Sebastiano Quagliata, faced few consequences as their large Cane Corso dogs roamed Thomas Road, at least twice biting passersby. Lucaj was eventually 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.
Last Wednesday, two of the couple’s dogs mauled to death Craig Sytsma, 46, of Livonia, Michigan as he jogged along Thomas Road.
There were at least two documented dog bites leading up to the fatal mauling. In 2012, a woman was bitten at least three times on the leg. Animal Control officers ordered the dog quarantined for 10 days but did not issue tickets. The woman, April Smith, sued the couple and won a $20,000 judgment.
Eighteen months later, three dogs came after a man in his 70s, and one bit him. He was able to fend the others off with his walking stick. Lucaj was issued two tickets in that case for allowing a dog to run loose and for having a dog that attacked another animal (although the case involved a human).
It was at that point that animal control officers could have taken the matter to the prosecutors, arguing a pattern of dangerous behavior. “They never notified us,” Turkelson said.
This is one of the two Cane Corsos in quarantine at the Lapeer County Animal Shelter that fatally attacked a Livonia man Wednesday, July 23, 2014, while he jogged in Metamora Township, Mich.(Photo: Lapeer County (Mich.) Sheriff)
At least one neighbor also said she complained to animal control about the dogs running freely in the rural neighborhood. Ashley Winter, 31, said last week that when she called animal control about the dogs roaming in her yard, swimming in her pond and going into her garage, she was told to try to capture the animals or talk to her neighbor. Winter said she was too scared to approach her neighbor’s house because of the dogs.
The owners likely face criminal prosecution stemming from last Wednesday’s fatal attack. Turkelson said his office continues to investigate and could decide by the end of the week what charges to bring.
Under Michigan law, the owner of a dog involved in a unprovoked, fatal attack on a person can be charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
A YouCaring page has been created to help raise money for Sytsma’s funeral expenses.