Couple Pleads No Contest to Deadly Dog Mauling in Metamora Township
Sebastiano Quagliata and Valbona Lucaj, the couple who owned two cane corso dogs who mauled a jogger to death on July 23, 2014, have each entered a no contest plea to manslaughter charges for owning a dangerous dog causing death. The couple had been facing second degree murder charges, but those charges were dropped as part of their plea. Second degree murder charges are very rare and unusual for dog attack cases, it was the first time it had ever happened in Michigan, but prosecutors argued that Quagliata and Lucaj should have been aware the dogs were dangerous because of previous dog bite incidents.
The couple is facing up to 15 years in prison with the possibility for the judge to add an additional six months to their sentence, but Tim Turkelson, Lapeer County Prosecutor, says he expects they will serve 19-38 months depending on information presented during preliminary court investigations. Jason Malkiewicz, attorney for Quagliata and Lucaj, plans to try to get probation for his clients. He had also been hoping to get charges dropped against Lucaj since she was in Boston at the time of the incident. Sentencing is scheduled to take place on June 8.
On July 23, 46-year-old Greg Sytsma was jogging along Thomas Road in Metamora Township when he was attacked by the two cane corsos owned by Quagliata and Lucaj. During preliminary hearings, a neighbor testified to having to shoot a gun at the dogs to get them to leave Sytsma alone. Other neighbors tried to help Sytsma until medical help arrived, but their efforts weren’t enough to save him. Prior to the attack on Sytsma, the dogs had bitten two other people in 2012 and 2013 which resulted in lawsuits against the couple. The dogs’ veterinarian said that while treating the couple’s cane corsos prior to the attack, the dogs’ aggressive behavior required three people to hold each dog down so they could be examined. The veterinarian said that even while the dogs were muzzled, she was still afraid of being bitten.
The two cane corsos involved in the deadly attack and one other adult dog were taken from their home and were euthanized. Animal control officials also took one four-month-old puppy and seven eight-week-old puppies, which were sent to a cane corso rescue center in Texas. The puppies have since been adopted out and have found new homes across the country and are reportedly doing very well.
The family of Greg Sytsma is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of their loved one and hopes the incident will encourage Michigan to re-evaluate their laws regarding dog bites and dangerous dogs, which they call, “archaic and weak.” An attorney representing the family said, “They don’t want anyone in the public to forget what happened. This is an extremely tragic and horrific loss of their son, father, and brother. They want something to come out of this so something like this can’t happen again.”