Valbona Lucaj, left, and Sebastiano Quagliata are charged with second-degree murder in 71A District Court in Lapeer, Mich., on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. / Kathleen Galligan, Detroit Free Press
LAPEER, Mich. -- A 73-year-old Metamora, Mich., man at a court hearing Friday recounted moments of terror as three large dogs snarled and snapped at him, one of them biting him in the back of the leg as he tried to fend them off with a walking stick along a rural road last fall.
"Here come these dogs flying down the hill, fast as they could run," Jim Salego told a packed Lapeer District Court room. "They tried to circle me, I had my stick going back and forth trying to get them off me."
After Salego was bitten in the leg, the dogs' owner, Sebastiano Quagliata came out of his house and called the dogs off.
"He said, 'Don't call the cops, I'll pay you money,'" Salego recalled of that November evening. "I pulled my phone out and dialed 911 and said, 'Yes, I am calling police. I have blood running down my leg.'"
Salego testified on behalf of prosecutors at a preliminary examination to decide if Quagliata and his wife, Valbona Lucaj, 44, should stand trial on second-degree murder charges after those same Cane Corso dogs mauled jogger Craig Sytsma to death along that same stretch of Thomas Road on July 23.
Prosecutors contend the couple should have known the dogs were deadly after they bit Salego as he took an evening stroll in November, and another walker in 2012.
It was the second day of testimony in the hearing, which began on Aug. 15 and resumes on Sept. 12. District Court Judge Laura Barnard denied a request to reduce the $500,000 bonds for Quagliata and Lucaj. The couple remain in the Lapeer County jail.
On Friday, Salego described in court how he was sitting on his deck with his wife, at their home, about a half mile from the Qualiata Lucaj home on July 23 when he heard dogs barking and a man yelling. Then gunshots. He said he and his wife drove down the road, assuming somebody had shot the vicious dogs, but they were horrified to see a bloody man dying in the road.
"It was this fella, all bloody," he testified, stopping as he struggled to compose himself. "My wife was hysterical."
The gunshots came from Ed Elmer, who had been mowing his lawn when he spotted the dogs attacking Sytsma. He ran into his house to grab his .44-cal. handgun, loading it as he ran, and fired one shot into the air. The dogs stopped the mauling, but did not retreat. He shot one dog in the leg and they ran off.
Elmer's girlfriend, Helen Barwig, a trained EMT technician and first responder, ran to Sytsma to try to save him, applying a tourniquet to his shoulder and using paper towels to stop the bleeding. He was "pouring" blood, she said, and begging her to save him.
"Then he reached and and grabbed my arm, and then he went limp," she testified.
Sytsma's family members wept quietly in the front row of the courtrooom as she testified. Quagliata and Lucaj's family sat behind them, some of them crying. The defendants, dressed in orange jail garb, sat side by side, handcuffed and stonefaced.
In earlier testimony, Robert Pitcavage testified he purchased an 8-week-old Cane Corso puppy from Quagliata in June or early July and was "very concerned" about how aggressive the parent dogs were.
"I was pretty disturbed," he said. "Just the aggression of the dogs. The adult dogs were snarling and gnawing on the chain link fence."
Pitcavage paid $900 for the puppy, but said he reconsidered the purchase after seeing the older dogs.
Read the original story: Dog bite victim, 73, says owner tried to pay him off