PLYMOUTH – The owner of two horses who directed that they be shot early Saturday morning in Newport said Monday he did so out of fear they would cause a serious traffic accident.
“This was terribly sad and unfortunate,” said Peter Betham of Condon Road in Plymouth, “but it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.”
Betham said that several months ago a friend of his was killed on Interstate 95 when his vehicle struck a horse. He said he was terrified the accident would be repeated.
“People can make me a hero,” he said. “Or people can make me a villain. As long as they understand that we shot the horses, not out of anger, but solely out of fear.”
Betham’s two mares had been loose for more than three days, he said, and he had done everything he could think of to capture them. He said he called Maine State Police, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department and the local animal control officer for help but “they just kept sending me somewhere else” and provided no assistance.
Early Saturday morning, some truckers on Route 2 were talking over the citizens band radio about some horses loose on the busy highway, Betham said.
“I made the decision then,” he said. “My only concern was people driving on that road on a snowy morning.”
Betham said he asked for help from a neighbor, who brought along a rifle, and Betham brought a lead line in case he caught one or both of the mares. The first horse was shot and died quickly, said Betham.
The other horse ran to the grounds of a nearby motel. Newport police Chief James Ricker confirmed Monday that he and Lt. Gary Morin were called to the Pine Hill Motel on Route 2 in East Newport about 8:16 a.m. Saturday to a report of shots fired and horses at large. The officers went to the rear of the motel office, behind a row of cabins.
Ricker said they followed a blood trail and horses’ hoof prints into the woods, where they found a dead bay mare. “She had been shot two times in the side and once in the head,” Ricker said.
“That was the wrong way to take care of that situation,” said John Cota on Sunday afternoon. Cota and his wife, Amy, who live at the Pine Hill Motel, called police after they heard a shot fired early Saturday.
“I came out with carrots to try and help catch it, but a man said, ‘Don’t bother trying to catch her’ because they had already shot her,” Amy Cota said.
The Cotas said they were angry that the owner chose to shoot the horses. “You don’t shoot them; you get someone to help you catch them,” said Amy Cota.
Ricker said Monday that no charges were filed against the owner. A report on the incident, however, has been forwarded to District Attorney Christopher Almy’s office for review.
Ricker said he has been receiving “some very nasty e-mails from citizens in the Bangor area. Some of them called Newport ‘the wild wild West.’ But they are really preaching to the choir.”
The chief said it appears that only two legal issues could be raised about the shootings. “One disallows firing within 300 feet of a dwelling, but we cannot substantiate that happened,” he said.
The second is cruelty to animals. “You can, of course, dispatch your own animals,” Ricker said, “but in this case, we don’t believe death was instantaneous. I’ve asked the DA to clarify this issue.”
Monday night, Betham was confident he had made the right choice. “I wouldn’t make a different decision if I had to make it right now,” he said. “It was 100 percent the right thing to do.”