WARREN - A 67-year-old Ripley man, who was charged with illegally detonating fireworks that spooked a horse, causing it to throw a deputy from the saddle at the Trumbull County Fair in July, pleaded not guilty Tuesday.
James N. McElroy remains free on a personal bond pending a trial April 1 on the fourth-degree felony charge of prohibitions concerning exhibitors and fireworks incident sites.
Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan set the trial date after arraigning McElroy on the charge that had remained in the lower courts until it was bound over from Eastern District Court in December.
McElroy, who operates the Broken Horn Rodeo Show, was originally charged in Central District Court, where Judge Thomas Campbell recused himself, sending the case to the county court in Brookfield.
Campbell said he knows the mounted deputy, Allen F. Smith of Orangeville, and declined to hear the case.
Smith has since recovered from three bruised ribs, a punctured lung and a broken shoulder suffered after his horse threw him in the infield area of the grandstands area during the July 6 show. He required surgery and still feels effects of the fall, according to deputies.
Sgt. Rick Tackett, with the sheriff's office, charged McElroy with not having a license and pointed out when he was arrested that detonating fireworks is controlled by state law, and even when purchasing the fireworks, the buyer is required to sign a waiver that the explosives are taken out of state within 48 hours before being exploded.
McElroy told Tackett that he or his son commonly sets off the fireworks at his shows and normally gets permission from a fire department official before doing so. McElroy said he would use the fireworks that cause loud booms rather than aerial displays. McElroy said his son was working another rodeo show at the time.
Tackett's report also states that fair board Director Bud Rodgers and Bazetta fire Chief Dennis Lewis each told McElroy not to shoot off the fireworks and were led to believe fireworks wouldn't be used at the show.
McElroy's attorney, Sam Bluedorn, said he knows of no witness that saw his client detonate any fireworks.
Bluedorn said the case has taken a long time to reach the common pleas court level since it was transferred to another court, and that he and McElroy, who lives in the community 50 miles southeast of Cincinnati, were never given a firm court date in Eastern District Court until he became aware of a warrant against McElroy for failure to appear.