Horse owner pleads not guilty to cruelty

Published: 3/4/2008 12:15 AM

The owner of 18 horses killed in an October crash near Wadsworth pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges Monday in Lake County circuit court.

Keith Tongen, 49, of Brownton, Minn., is facing misdemeanor charges of cruel treatment of animals and failure to provide humane care and treatment of animals.

On Oct. 27, 59 Belgian draft horses Tongen owned were being driven from an auction in Indiana to Minnesota when the driver of the truck pulling their double-decker trailer hit another vehicle and the trailer tipped over.

Police said the trailer was intended for the transport of pigs and cattle and the horses were packed into it in such a way that they were unable to stand upright or move.

Eighteen of the horses inside were killed or euthanized as a result of the crash.

Similar charges have been filed against the driver of the truck, James Anderson, 34, of McLeod, N.D., and a warrant remains outstanding for his arrest.

Associate Judge Patrick Lawler told Tongen to appear in court again April 14.

Tongen faces up to a year in jail or a $2,500 fine if convicted of animal cruelty and up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine if convicted of the humane care charge.

He is free pending a resolution of the case on a $100,000 bond.

After the crash, Donna Ewing, president of the Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society in Barrington Hills, was given ownership of the surviving horses by the Great West Casualty Insurance Co. Ewing worked to find new homes for the horses.

As of Monday, Ewing said all of the animals are spoken for, but three have not been released yet because of health concerns. She anticipates they will be ready to go to their new owners soon.

Ewing was in court Monday and said she was disappointed the trial was continued.

"The thing the horse community needs to do is pull together and work on federal legislation banning double-deck trailers in all cases, regardless of where they are headed," Ewing said.