Grudge over dog linked to fatal shooting
Don Frigo changed the name of his champion dog.
Eight years later, that decision, the Crown said, cost him his life.
That’s the simplest way to understand the deep grudge carried by Boris Panovski, 73, a former high-flying dog trainer and breeder from Scarborough, who until an abrupt fall from grace in 2006, lived and breathed the field dog trial world.
In the mix too is an embarrassing newspaper headline in a Waynesboro, Georgia newspaper about Panovski during the biggest and brightest field dog training championships.
After that, he lost his business, his marriage and his connections. And Don Frigo changed the name of the dog he bought from Panovski from Panovski Silver to Bellfield Silver. Panovski remained steadfast in his belief that Don Frigo, the owner of a successful Etobicoke construction company who lived on a farm in Caledon, and a dog trainer Mike Hester, who trained Silver, had concocted a scheme to destroy him – and he would “get them back.”
In her opening statement to the jury Monday, Huron County Crown Teresa Donnelly said Panovski’s revenge came in the form of three shotgun blasts from the bushes at Don Frigo and his wife Eva Willer Frigo, while they rode their horses back to their campground while at field dog trials at the Hullett Wildlife Area, north of Clinton in Central Huron on Sept. 13, 2014. Donnelly said Panovski had “a long standing, deep hatred of Don Frigo,” so much so that he shot him in the face and then, with the shotgun barrel pointed out the passenger side window of his old Toyota, shot him in the back of the head after he had stumbled and fallen from his horse. Between those two shots, another blast injured Don Frigo’s wife, when a pellet went into her cheek and her tooth.
She will be testifying at this trial, Donnelly said, and will describe seeing the profile of the shooter who wore a camouflage jacket and hat when she glanced back as she rode away for help of her husband’s execution.
This will be a complex trial for the seven men and seven women who are hearing the case. Donnelly’s 40-minute address covered a lot of ground, including the closeknit world of field dog training, where hunting dogs compete for glory for their owners by displaying their hunting assistance prowess.
The Frigos’ and Panovskis’ shared love of competitive field dog training stemming back to the 1990s.
This was the Frigos’ hobby, and one they embraced with a deep passion. On the weekend of Don Frigo’s death, they were returning to Hullett where a group of fellow bird-dog enthusiasts gathered annually for training. But for Panovski, it was this was his business. Until 2005, he was an envy in the dog training world, both in dog handling and breeding, and worked with his son and grandson, Donnelly said. In October 2000, Panovski sold Don Frigo a dog that would become a champion, Panovski Silver. The dog was trained by Hester and went on to win several coveted prizes.
In the American Field Journal, the bible of the field dog trial industry, Don Frigo took out an ad in January 2004 about the pride of the field dog world and thanked everyone who had helped, including a special thanks for Panovski. Panovski, Donnelly said, was at the top of his game, selling his dogs for up to $20,000 a pup. He grabbed two national championships in the United States for handling a dog he had sold to Gabe Magnotta, of Magnotta Wines.
But in a flash, Panovski’s world fell apart. While in Waynesboro, Ga., in January 2005, the epicentre of field dog competitions, a story appeared in the Waynesboro True Citizen newspaper with the headline, “Pandering Puts Man in Jail.”
The story referred to Panovski by name, age and address, and Donnelly said, what he had allegedly done. Don Frigo became aware of the allegation and a copy of that newspaper article was found in his possession after his death.
In what appears to be a move to distance himself from Panovski, he changed the name of the champion dog to Bellfield Silver, a change noted in the American Field Journal in an issue that was later found in Panovski’s apartment. No more credit was given to Panovski for the dog’s success. Within a year, Panovski’s lost his high-profile clients, his kennel went out of business, his marriage collapsed and he became estranged from his family. And he was no longer welcome into his beloved field dog trial world.
Now persona non grata among the people he who had been his community for years, Panovski levelled the blame Don Frigo and Hester for his demise.
But, Donnelly said, neither were responsible or prevented him from being part of their dog world.
The grudge was held for years. Panovski appears to have set a plan in motion to extract his revenge in the days before Sept. 13, 2014. He changed his personalized licence plates on his 1998 Toyota Corolla that read 2NAT CH, for his national championships. He tinted the windows on his car, fixed his 20-gauge shotgun, checked for when the Hullett Field trials would be happening – he had been a frequent participant in that event for years and knew the area well – and his cellphone was traced to being near the Frigos’ home.
He acquired a bird hunting licence that was supposed to be used in the Stouffville area.
The morning of the shooting, he told his girlfriend that he was going hunting, Donnelly said. He dropped her off at home and she didn’t hear from him for the next eight hours.
A witness saw a car that looked like Panovski’s and a man in camo in the driver’s seat, near the corner of Front Road and Huron Road, the former Highway 8, near Clinton, just south of the wildlife area and 200 kilometres from his Scarborough apartment.
After the shooting, his cellphone was traced to Fergus, then Guelph – nowhere near Stouffville, east of Toronto. The Frigos had arrived at the Hullett wildlife area that morning with two trucks, trailers, horses and dogs. They had breakfast at Bartliff’s bakery in Clinton and spent the day with their field dog training community. The shooting happened at the end of the day, after all the field trial and while they were riding back to their camp.
They were both wounded. Eva Willer Frigo heard her husband say “my head, my head,” after the shots. Then she briefly saw the man who shot them who was running to a car.
Donnelly said Frigo’s wife, who will be testifying with the aid of an emotional support dog, can’t identify Panovski – she hadn’t seen him since her father’s funeral in 2006 and his appearance had changed over the years – but she was able to give the police a description of the car.
Panovski cancelled his insurance, his gym membership, gave away his cars, his shotgun and took out $5,000 Canadian and 5,000 Euros from the bank. He booked a plane ticket to Macedonia and left Sept. 15, 2014, He hadn’t been back there for 30 years.
After the OPP, who had searched his apartment, announced he was wanted, he flew back to Canada and was arrested on the plane in Toronto as soon as it landed, Donnelly said.
The first witnessed were two OPP officers who were first to arrive at the scene, which was treated as an active shooting.
The trial is expected to last eight to 10 weeks.