Baby Horse Dies After Neighbor Fires Bowling Balls From Cannon

Firing bowling balls and pins from a cannon next to a horse farm—what could go wrong?

02.26.16 9:00 PM ET

A 65-year-old Wisconsinite rang in the Fourth of July the traditional American way: by firing 10 bowling balls and 10 bowling pins into the night sky from a homemade cannon. Entirely coincidentally, a foal was found dead of blunt force trauma to the head at a neighbor’s horse farm the next morning.

Horse breeder Lisa Kroll says the explosions she heard from her neighbor’s property on July 4 sounded like fireworks. But when she awoke the next morning, she found her farm littered with three bowling pins and seven bowling balls, one of which had crashed through her barn roof and landed near a horse stall. A 10-month-old horse she had been raising was dead in the field outside.

St. Croix, Wisconsin, police say Kroll’s neighbor, 65-year-old Ricky Thorne has baby horse blood on his hands. Thorne has been charged with a felony count of second-degree reckless endangerment, and a misdemeanor count of dangerous weapon use.

According to a criminal complaint retrieved by Twin Cities, Thorne admitted to having fired a series of bowling balls from a personal cannon, but had not intended for them to reach Kroll’s farm, nearly a half-mile away. Before lighting up the bowling ball launcher, Thorne allegedly told his sister that the projectiles would land on their own property, “so deep that no one would be able to find them,” the complaint reads.

Kroll told police that she had seen her young horse alive earlier that day, but that while she suspected its head injury had been inflicted by a speeding bowling ball, she “knew there was no way to prove that a bowling ball or pin hit the horse causing it to die.”

She values the damage to her barn at $4,000, and the loss of the horse at $10,000.

The damages could have been even worse for Kroll. Her company Kroll Performances Horses sells horses valued up to $50,000. And she had been hosting her own party on July 4, with guests sleeping in campers outside the bowling ball-battered barn.

“A bowling ball dropping on them probably would have resulted in their death,” a deputy wrote in the criminal complaint.

St. Croix prosecutors say this is their first weapons charge involving a bowling ball in recent memory.

“This is not the norm,” St. Croix County Attorney Eric Johnson said in response to a Daily Beast question on bowling ball crime. “I’ve been prosecuting 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

But bowling ball cannons are an almost-common Independence Day tradition in some gun-happy circles.

To honor the nation’s birth, conservative militia group “The Oathkeepers” uploaded footage of members firing a bowling ball two miles. Sarah Palin and her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, are also practitioners of what they call the “Bowling Ball Bonfire,” a local sporting event that involves filling a sawed-off oxygen tank with black powder, loading in a bowling ball, and firing the thing straight into the air. (“Then the suspense sets in because who knows where they’ll come down,” New York Magazine observed after attending one such bonfire.)

Wisconsin’s stance on personal cannon use is murky. When contacted, the Wisconsin State Law Library said the state, which has relatively permissive firearm laws, does not explicitly address cannons in its statutes or administrative code. Johnson confirmed that there were no laws on the books against cannon use or ownership.

But Kroll, who has temporarily patched the barn roof, says cannon fire is no different from any other kind of gunfire in a residential neighborhood.

“It’d be like if someone took a rifle and just started shooting at your house,” she told a local Fox affiliate. “It’s pretty much the same thing.”