ELKTON — A former Elkton High School physical education teacher received a six-month jail term Monday for fatally kicking a puppy named “Buck” that he owned with his then-fiancée and her 4-year-old daughter.
The incident occurred June 16 at the couple’s then-shared Colora residence amid a protracted argument that the defendant, Todd Anthony Corron, 36, and his then-fiancée, Lindsey Avara, were having over his alcohol problem, which, according to the defense, was the catalyst for Corron’s recent series of court cases.
Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes imposed a maximum three-year sentence Corron and then suspended all but six months of it during Monday’s hearing.
Baynes also ordered Corron to serve 30 months of post-jail-release supervised probation, with conditions that he complete an “in-person anger management program” and that he undergo alcohol counseling and treatment.
“If you’re looking for sympathy from me, you’re not going to get it. A normal human being doesn’t pick up a dog by the leash and kick it,” Baynes told Corron, who, clad in a canary yellow jail inmate suit, was standing at the defense table by his lawyer, Jay Emrey.
The judge further opined from the bench, “You may not think so, but I think you’re a dangerous person.”
Baynes made his comments moments after Corron, during his allocution, emphasized that he did not intentionally kill or even try to harm the dog, which he and Avara had purchased about three months before the incident.
His voice strained with emotion at times as he spoke to the judge, Corron blamed the incident on his level of intoxication and the emotional intensity of the argument he was having with Avara.
“I’m taking responsibility, but I had no cruel intent with what happened ... I loved that dog,” Corron said, telling the judge that he has photos of Buck on his cellphone and had posted pictures of the pet dog on social media.
Corron explained, “My emotions were firing out high, and my logic was firing out low.”
Emrey told the judge that Corron is remorseful and that he has cried several times over the death of Buck at his own hands.
Noting that he owns several pet dogs, Emrey also told Baynes that he and Corron, whom he has known for 20 years, experienced grief while meeting as defense lawyer and client.
“We cried together over the incident,” Emrey said, after telling the judge, “Alcohol is the problem ... He certainly didn’t intend to kill the dog or hurt it.”
Baynes sentenced Corron for an aggravated animal cruelty conviction. Last week, as part of a plea deal, Corron had pleaded guilty to that offense, which was the sole charge against him.
The judge made the six-month term consecutive to a 60-day sentence that Corron started serving in the county jail Jan. 7, after a Cecil County Circuit Court jury had convicted him of second-degree assault Dec. 17.
In that unrelated case, after a half-day trial and 30 minutes of deliberation, jurors concluded that Corron kicked a Cecil County Sheriff’s Office deputy in the shoulder on Feb. 9, 2018 while Corron, who was in custody at the time on drunken-driving charges, was struggling with deputies inside the CCSO headquarters.
Moments after that verdict, Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr. imposed a three-year sentence on Corron, suspending all but 60 days of it. Davis also ordered Corron to serve 18 months of supervised probation after completing his 60-day jail term.
On Dec. 18, one day later, Cecil County Public Schools officials fired Corron, Emrey reported during Monday’s sentencing.
“He was terminated ... 14 years down the drain,” Emrey told the judge, referring to how long Corron had been employed by CCPS as a physical education teacher who also coached wrestling and baseball.
Emrey noted that the second-degree assault charge against Corron had been stetted — placed on the inactive docket — as part of his plea deal in the February 2018 drunken-driving case.
But later, at the discretion of the state, it was pursued by prosecutors because of the aggravated animal cruelty charge that had been filed against Corron on July 13, four days after his plea and sentencing in his drunken-driving case, Emrey further explained.
On July 9, in that drunken-driving case, Cecil County District Court Judge Clara Campbell imposed a suspended 30-day sentence on Corron, after he had pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence of alcohol, and she placed him on one year of unsupervised probation.
It marked Corron’s third drunken-driving conviction in 10 years, although, in one of those cases, he received probation before judgment, court records show.
During Monday’s sentencing in the aggravated animal cruelty case, Emrey reported that, in September, Corron completed a 28-day residential alcohol treatment program. (Emrey noted that Corron had consumed alcohol only on weekends — and never while working as a teacher and coach.)
The defense lawyer also reported that Corron has gained insight into how profoundly his alcohol problem can and has hurt him, while he has been incarcerated for the past month in the deputy assault case.
Emrey asked Baynes to place Corron on supervised probation, with an emphasis on alcohol treatment, and to order him to perform community service — instead of giving him additional jail time.
He stressed that Corron’s alcohol problem already has hurt him personally, professionally and socially. Emrey’s list of Corron’s negative consequences included the loss of his teaching job; the loss of his fiancée, who left him after the incident; his 60-day jail term for the deputy assault and threats from pet advocates he has received on social media.
“He’s suffered enough,” Emrey told Baynes.
Deputy State’s Attorney James Dellmyer, however, sought essentially the same sentence that Baynes later imposed on Corron.
Cecil County Animal Services officer Daniel Puhalski had filed the aggravated animal cruelty charge against Corron on July 13, after investigating allegations by Avara that he had strangled and kicked the small puppy.
During Monday’s sentencing, details of the incident were made public for the first time, through Avara’s victim-impact statement and Corron’s allocution.
Avara said she and Corron had been arguing over his alcohol problem on their cellphones and through text messages throughout that day, while she was at work and while he was drinking at their home.
She rushed from her job to their home, however, after Corron sent her a text threatening to put Buck outside of the house so the dog would run away, Avara said. She feared that Buck would be struck by a vehicle, Avara added.
Buck was still inside the house, out of his cage and on a leash, when she arrived, according to Avara, who recalled that Corron entered from another room and started a heated argument after noticing that she wasn’t wearing her engagement ring.
“He grabbed the leash from me and picked (Buck) up into the air to hang him,” Avara said, adding that she then grabbed Corron by the throat and, in response, he returned the dog to the floor.
At that point, according to Avara, Corron kicked Buck, whose breathing then started slowing. Corron went back into the bedroom, she recalled.
“I tried to resuscitate him. He was not breathing,” Avara remembered. “I felt helpless and alone to clean up the mess (Corron) made.”
She drove Buck to a veterinarian, holding the dog in her arms and apologizing to the pet for failing to keep him safe, Avara said. At the vet clinic, where Buck died, Avara balked at detailing how the pet suffered his fatal injury, she added.
“I was scared to tell the truth,” Avara said.
Corron later told Baynes that when he noticed Avara wasn’t wearing her engagement ring, “I felt like I was suffocating, like everything was caving in.”
That observation, exacerbated by the argument and his intoxication, caused him to lash out, he said.
“It happened very quickly. But then time froze and there was instant regret, disbelief. What did I just do?” Corron outlined to the judge. “Helplessness came over me. Lindsey was hysterical — and rightfully so.”
Overwhelmed by the situation, Corron retreated to the bedroom and buried his face in a pillow, he told Baynes.
Toward the end of his allocution, Corron vowed, “I will not let this define who I am because it is not who I am. I still have a lot of good in me.”
The defense presented three character witnesses, all of whom expressed shock over what Corron had done and reported that Corron has experienced tearful remorse.
Two of them have been friends with Corron since boyhood. They opined that Corron fatally kicking the dog in the heat of the moment is incongruent with the “passionate, big-hearted” person they know.
The defense also presented Dean Cox, who coached Corron when he competed on the Rising Sun High School wrestling team some 20 years ago and who later mentored Corron when he became a teacher and started coaching.
Cox opined that the incident involving the pet dog was an anomaly, remarking, “I know that this is way out of line (with) the way he lived his life.”
Although not scheduled to speak, Corron’s father stood up from his pew in the back of the courtroom, toward the end of the hearing, and he asked to say a few words on his son’s behalf. The judge allowed it.
Noting that he is 84, Corron’s father, at the outset, alluded to consequences suffered by his son and his family and commented, “This has about killed me.”
Baynes quickly interjected from the bench, “It did kill the dog — let’s not lose sight of that.”