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Horses’ Deaths Deemed Accidental

July 12, 2000

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. (AP) _ A fire that raced through a barn and killed 31 horses was deemed an accident and electrical in origin.

The fire at Breakaway Farms, about 40 miles north of New York City, broke out at about 5:15 a.m. Monday, and the wooden structure was engulfed by the time firefighters arrived.

The barn contained fire sensors, but it was unclear whether they were working, New York State Investigator Richard Byrnes said Wednesday.

Sixteen of the horses belonged to Sonia Toker and Martha Gilchrist, who leased the barn from Oak Brook Farm to run a riding, boarding and training concern. Fifteen were privately owned and boarded at Breakaway, many by children learning to ride.

The barn was reduced to an ashen outline and a few blackened posts. The dead horses were quickly buried by barn workers and firefighters using the heavy equipment that had been brought in to extinguish any hot spots.

Kristine Ward, co-owner of Oak Brook, said she was asleep 25 yards from the barn, unaware of the fire until her dogs started barking at arriving fire trucks.

``This is just an incredible tragedy,″ she said. ``There’s no way to make it better.″

Ward is the ex-wife of Barney Ward, a horse trainer who was sentenced to prison in 1996 after admitting he arranged the deaths of horses in Illinois for insurance money.

Katherine Grayson, whose daughter had a horse at the barn, said of the animal, ``He was her life.″

``For her, it’s like losing a child,″ she said.

A memorial service for the horses will be held at the farm Friday.

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