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Man accused of setting dog on fire also had prior dog disappear, family says

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One week after Dixie, a 4-year-old Red Heeler was kidnapped and set on fire, according to police, causing second- and third-degree burns to most of her body, she was euthanized due to the severity of her injuries on Monday, March 8, 2021.

Trista Heywood, Facebook

SALT LAKE CITY — The man accused of setting a dog on fire and abandoning it near Magna now faces felony charges.

The charges come a day after Dixie, a 4-year-old Red Heeler who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 30% of her body, according to court documents, was euthanized due to the severity of her injuries.

Michael Paul Busico, 40, of Tooele, was charged Tuesday in 3rd District Court with arson, a second-degree felony; torture of a companion animal and theft, both third-degree felonies; and failing to stop at the command of law enforcement, a class A misdemeanor.

On March 1, a witness saw a man on the frontage road off I-80 near 9300 West “pour liquid on a dog and then light the dog on fire,” according to charging documents.

The incident also started a small fire in the brush. Unified police and fire crews were called. Officers along with the witness found Dixie walking in the road with burns over “her entire body and severe injuries to her face,” the charges state.

Shortly after the dog was found, the owners contacted police after seeing news reports of the incident. The owners, Tucker and Trista Heywood, recognized the description of the suspect and his truck given by the witness as Busico, according to the charges. The Heywoods told investigators that a family member had recently broken up with Busico and Busico claimed that family member took money from a bank account before ending the relationship, the charges state.

Police believe Busico took Dixie from the Heywoods’ yard “to directly intimidate and threaten” his ex-girlfriend and her family, according to a police affidavit.

Police located Buscio’s truck at his father’s house in Tooele. When he saw officers approaching he ran but was tracked down and arrested about 100 yards away, the charges state.

Dixie received treatment at a local vet clinic. But after a week of treatment and surgeries, the Heywoods announced Monday that Dixie would not be able to have a good quality of life again and had been given a year to a 1 12 to live under a best-case scenario, and the decision was made to euthanize the dog.

Prosecutors have requested that Buscio be held without bail. According to the motion requesting pretrial detention, the Heywoods claim past abuse by Busico on his ex-girlfriend. They also state this isn't the first time a dog has gone missing.

Busico and his ex-girlfriend previously owned a Yorkie who “disappeared after an argument” and was never found, according to court documents.