Landowner shoots at stray livestock, pays $1,500 to settle with owner

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SALEM, Ohio – Since Francis and Estelle Hilton moved into their new home near Warsaw in Coshocton County in 1991, there’s been trouble in the neighborhood.

The couple’s frustrations have centered around farm animals and their owners – their neighbors.

Meanwhile, those neighbors are just as upset, especially after accusations that Francis Hilton shot one neighbor’s horse earlier this month.

The couple anted up $1,500 to Shelly Kuchinka after two of her horses and a small bull calf escaped electric fencing and came onto their property.

Chain of events. Early the morning of May 2, Hilton and his 9-year-old great-nephew saw two horses and a young Angus bull calf on their property.

“The horses were up on their hind legs, pawing and biting each other, running everywhere,” Estelle Hilton said.

“We just had our lawn put in. We spent $7,000 on the lawn, sidewalks and shrubs,” Hilton said.

Francis Hilton used a 12-gauge shotgun to fire shots into nearby trees, hoping to scare the animals away.

Soon after, neighbors accused Hilton of firing directly at the horses.

“I saw my husband shoot twice and saw the leaves on the apple tree fly, so I know he didn’t shoot right at the horse.

“If he was shooting [at them], he would have shot both of them,” Estelle Hilton said, noting she and her husband are “scared to death” of horses and cattle.

Injuries. Sheriff’s reports show “the horse was bloody around its chest area and front legs” when deputy David Selders arrived.

Reports also show a veterinarian on the scene said the horse “probably had buckshot pellets in its joints” and saving the horse would require a trip to the veterinary hospital at Ohio State University.

The horse, Ripper, is recovering at home after a five-day veterinary hospital stay in Columbus.

Second time around. According to police reports, neighbors Richard McGrady and Leta Grudier caught the horses and calf and fixed a portion of McGrady’s fence that was damaged during the ordeal.

Hilton was previously accused of shooting a bull owned by McGrady in 1995.

The bull reportedly broke through the fence and chased Estelle Hilton through her yard.

Not guilty. A May 19 out-of-court settlement of $1,500 covers Shelly Kuchinka’s lost wages for May 2 plus hauling and veterinary costs.

“My husband did not shoot directly at that horse. He’s innocent,” Hilton said, adding they settled only to relieve the situation with their neighbors.

According to Kuchinka, veterinarians confirmed the injuries were gunshot wounds.

Matter of principle. “It’s the whole idea that these animals tore up our yard. We’ve never bothered all our neighbors but this is an ongoing thing, all the time with animals,” Hilton said. She believes she and her husband were set up in an effort to collect money.

Kuchinka sees it differently. Her main frustration is Francis Hilton’s history.

“It’s like if you’re going to step in his yard, he’s going to shoot, that’s his attitude,” she said.

“He lives right in the middle of several farms. He needs to understand this happens,” Kuchinka said, referring to times when livestock get out.

“If [something like] this happens gain, we’ll let [the animals] do whatever and let the sheriff and courts settle it. We’re tired of this,” Hilton said.

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Francis Hilton had every right to shoot at the horses and bull that were threatening him, according to Coshocton’s law director, James Skelton.

Hilton legally could have shot directly at the horses and been within the confines of the law.

The law agrees. “The law states that if an animal, wild or tame, wanders onto your property, you’ve got the right to defend yourself or your property if you feel threatened,” Skelton said.

In addition, shooting an animal on your property – even a neighbor’s dog deemed threatening by growling or barking – is legal and can’t be prosecuted criminally if threat can be proven.

Another question. The main question that comes to mind is why Hilton just didn’t go back inside when he saw the horses and bull on his property, Skelton said.

“[Hilton] was under no obligation to go inside under state law,” he said.

Though Estelle Hilton said the out-of-court settlement was the end of the matter, Skelton said both parties can pursue civil court remedies for property damage.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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