Casino Arsonist Faces Years in Prison for Deaths of 30 Horses

Posted on: February 2, 2024, 02:58h. 

Last updated on: February 2, 2024, 02:58h.

A man pled guilty this week for setting a barn fire at Tioga Downs Casino Resort in New York State. The horrific blaze killed 30 horses.

Tioga Downs Casino Resort blaze
Tioga Downs Casino Resort blaze, pictured above. Thirty horses died in the November fire. (Image: Spectrum News/David Dobrzensky)

Boyd H. Fenton, 33, of Athens, Pa., on Monday pleaded guilty to third-degree arson, second-degree assault, and 30 counts of animal cruelty.

The November 9 fire in Nichols, N.Y., also killed a cat and injured a trainer with second-degree burns.

None of the horses survived. Terrified animals were seen kicking and screaming as the flames spread, according to The New York Times.

When Fenton is sentenced on April 19, Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin wants him to get the maximum penalty, according to Lancaster Farming, a regional farm news outlet.

The sentence for arson runs between five and 15 years. Assault leads to seven years behind bars, followed by three years of supervision. Animal cruelty convictions lead to 15 months to four years in prison.

Fenton’s sentences have to be served concurrently under New York state law, Martin said.

The sentence, even though it’s the maximum we could offer, still isn’t enough,” Martin added. “But we did the best we could.”

Martin said authorities were unsure of Fenton’s motive, but the prosecutor revealed that Fenton had taken drugs before the incident.

“He thought people were chasing him,” Martin told Lancaster Farming.

Fenton is currently in custody in the Tioga County jail awaiting his sentencing.

Recollections of Blaze

The injured trainer, identified as Edgar Clarke, 68, had grabbed a fire extinguisher after spotting the flames, but the fire was too extensive.

“I couldn’t get in the barn,” Clarke told The Times. “It was totally engulfed.”

Clarke suffered second-degree burns on his face.

Kayla Morris lost 12 horses in the blaze, all of which she either trained or owned.

I tried to get in the barn, but I just couldn’t because the fire was just so hot and I just screamed and screamed,” she recalled in an interview with The Times. “I sat for four hours and watched it burn and just hoped — hoped — that one of them would come out.”

Among the horses who died was Better Call Saul, an 11-year-old. Owned by Lee Morris, he had 24 career trips to the winner’s circle with earnings of $267,202.

“He was the absolute love of my life,” Kayla Morris told Harnesslink, a horse-focused publication. “He was cheeky, funny, and always hungry. He just wanted to be loved.”

Donations Raised

Fundraisers were established following the deadly blaze.

Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs and chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, matched $100K in donations. In total, several hundred thousand dollars were raised for the impacted horsemen and trainers.

Tioga Downs Casino Resort is located near the New York State-Pennsylvania border. It provides casino gaming featuring 890 slot machines and harness racing. Many of the horses that perished in the blaze were used for harness races.

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