Tioga Downs Arsonist Pleads Guilty to Killing 30 Horses in Blaze

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Boyd H. Fenton of Athens, Pennsylvania, gave a guilty plea in court this week. That’s after being charged with starting the 2023 barn fire at Tioga Downs Casino Resort and Racetrack in New York state that killed 30 horses.

In what was one of the most shocking U.S. gambling business stories of 2023, the November 9 incident saw 30 horses and a cat die, as well as the blaze causing injury to a trainer who tried to rescue animals from the fire.

Fenton’s motives were unclear, prosecutors said in Tioga County Court. He had been intoxicated on drugs prior to starting the fire.

Now that he has pled guilty to the 105 charges he faced in total, he will be sentenced on April 19. He faces between 7 to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence.

The Fire and Reaction

Tioga Downs Casino Resort and Racetrack is located south of Ithaca in upstate New York, near the border with Pennsylvania. It is one of the more prominent New York casinos in the area, also offering live harness racing and betting, as well as retail sports betting with a FanDuel sportsbook.

Around 6 a.m. on November 9, 2023, authorities responded to reports of a fire at the casino resort’s horse barn.

Despite the emergency crews’ best efforts, and the actions of trainers Edgar Clarke and Kayla Morris, none of the horses in the barn could be saved from the blaze. Clarke received second degree burns on his face in trying to rescue the horses, for which Fenton was also charged.

Among the horses that perished that day was 24-time race winner Better Call Saul. The 11-year-old, owned by Lee Morris, had made handsome career earnings of $267,702.

Trainers who lost horses in the fire include Kevin Reynolds, Jr., Kayla and Lee Morris, Clarke, Allison Kolesar, and Daniel Harvey.

“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,” said Kayla Morris. “I sat for four hours and watched it burn and just hoped — hoped — that one of them would come out.”

A fundraiser was set up for the trainers, which attracted much attention from the U.S. horse race betting community. That included a volunteer fire department lunch and auction the week after the incident.

Some of the trainers lost all of their horses in the fire, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in equipment.

Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs, matched the various donations to the tune of $100,000.

The Charges

Fenton was handed more than 100 charges, but because they all stem from the same crime of lighting the fire, his sentences have to be served concurrently under New York law. The charges include arson, interference with injury of domestic animals, and assault.

Prosecutors, however, wanted more.

“The sentence, even though it’s the maximum we could offer, still isn’t enough,” said Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin.

“But we did the best we could.”

If not served concurrently, the maximum sentences on Fenton’s charges would almost certainly cover lifetime imprisonment.

30 counts of injury to domestic animals alone carries 16 months to 4 years for each count, which is 120 years at the maximum. He will be sentenced on April 19.

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