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Dogs kill jogger

Victim worked in Oxford

July 30, 2014 - A Livonia man left his Oxford workplace to go jogging July 23 and ended up being mauled by two large dogs in neighboring Metamora Township.

John Sytsma, an employee of Eltro Services, Inc. (3570 Thomas Rd.) in Oxford Township, was hospitalized and died the next day from the injuries he sustained. He was 46.

Sytsma had decided to go for a jog and headed north along Thomas Rd. around 5:30 p.m. He was near Brauer Rd. when he was attacked by two 3-year-old Cane Corsos, a mastiff-type breed, according to Metamora Township Police Chief David Mallett.

"As far as I know, this was an unprovoked attack," he said. "The gentleman was just running down the road and the dogs, for whatever reason, caught sight of (him) and went down toward him."

The dogs were chased away by a nearby homeowner mowing his lawn who saw Sytsma being attacked and immediately came to his aid. The homeowner grabbed a firearm and shot at the animals, striking one of them.

"No bullets hit the victim," Mallet said.

The dogs are being held in quarantine at the Lapeer County Animal Control facility. "There is a hearing (set for) July 30 to decide the fate of the animals," Mallett said.

Incidents of dogs coming from the same address as these Cane Corsos biting other people were reported in May 2012 and November 2013, according to Mallett. In the latter case, an elderly man was taken to the hospital.

The chief said it's "unclear" whether these previous incidents involved the same dogs that caused Sytsma's death, but he believes they "most likely" did.

"The (owners) won't talk to us," Mallett noted. "They have counsel representing them right now."

In both the 2012 and 2013 incidents, Mallett said Metamora Police took the initial reports, but the cases were turned over to Lapeer County Animal Control for follow-up.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) website describes the Cane Corso as "muscular and large-boned." The Cane Corso is native to Italy and was used to guard property and hunt wild boars. The AKC website also indicated Cane Corsos are "affectionate to their owner and bond closely with children and family."

"The male (involved in Sytsma's attack), I would have to say, was probably close to 100 pounds, if not maybe a little more," Mallett said. "The other one (a female) was significantly lighter, but you could tell that it had just had pups. That's what the animal control chief told me – (it's) common for female adults who give birth to lose body weight."

The dogs' owners could be facing criminal charges stemming from Sytsma's death.

"I am going to submit a report to the (Lapeer County) prosecutor's office and I think they'll be charges coming down," Mallett said. "It's their decision, ultimately, but they've expressed an interest in it."

Mallett said there are statutes on the books covering incidents in which animals kill people, so there is the potential for the Cane Corso owners to be charged with "anything up to and including manslaughter."

"Now, if there was evidence that (showed) they were training these dogs to (act in an) aggressive manner, the charges could be elevated, but we've not discovered anything (of) that nature," he noted.

Mallett said folks who jog or walk along rural roads can protect themselves by carrying some type of defense spray.

But more importantly, the chief advised people to "always be aware of your surroundings" and try not to get distracted by listening to music or even the sound of your feet hitting the ground.

Folks planning to run or walk in unfamiliar territory should first drive through the area and check to see if there are any houses with loose animals, according to Mallett.

"Animals are supposed to be locked up, but that isn't always the case, especially when you're running out here in a small community, a rural community," he said. "A lot of animals . . . tend to roam their yard and don't typically leave their yard. These animals (that attacked Sytsma) did."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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