Sunday 2 June 2024

Disgraced Professor Sentenced for Action That Could Have Trapped Firefighters in Deadly Blaze

 A former college lecturer on “criminal justice issues” is going to get some first-hand experience in the subject after he was sentenced to spend five years and three months in prison on Thursday.

Gary Stephen Maynard had pleaded guilty in January to starting a number of fires in California that could have had much more disastrous results than they did.

Maynard, 49, had formerly lectured at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, KCRA reported.

The former lecturer admitted to starting at least four fires in July and August of 2021, according to a Justice Department news release, and pleaded guilty to three counts of arson.

One count of arson was dismissed as part of a plea agreement, according to court records cited by The New York Times.

Maynard was charged with starting fires behind firefighters who were working to contain the Dixie Fire, which eventually destroyed more than 1,000 homes and spread over 1,500 square miles, according to KCRA.

“He intentionally made a dangerous situation more perilous by setting some of his fires behind the men and women fighting the Dixie fire, potentially cutting off any chance of escape,” Phillip A. Talbert, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, said in a statement (available in full below).

It eventually grew to become the second-largest fire in California history, according to the outlet.

“Maynard faced the possibility of up to 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine,” KCRA reported. “Besides the prison sentence of more than five years, he was ordered to pay $13,081 in restitution.”

His attorney argued that Maynard was “suffering from untreated and significant mental health issues when he set the fires and has sought treatment since then,” according to Fox News.

“A Santa Clara University colleague of Mr. Maynard, who was not identified, told the police in October 2020 that Mr. Maynard was struggling with anxiety, depression, split personality, and wanted to kill himself, the complaint said,” according to The Times.

You can read the news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California below in its entirety.

Gary Stephen Maynard, 49, of San Jose, was sentenced today to five years and three months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $13,081 in restitution for three counts of arson on federal property, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

“Maynard went on an arson spree on federal land while California faced one of the worst fire seasons in history. He intentionally made a dangerous situation more perilous by setting some of his fires behind the men and women fighting the Dixie fire, potentially cutting off any chance of escape,” said U.S.  Attorney Talbert. “It is only because of the quick response by the U.S. Forest Service — and the actions of civilian witnesses — that those fires were extinguished as quickly as they were. Today’s sentence underscores the danger that Maynard’s fires created and serves as a reminder that federal law enforcement takes seriously the threats to life, property, and our national forests caused by arson.”

U.S. Forest Service Assistant Special Agent in Charge Tony Magarrell praises the actions of his Agents and fellow cooperating law enforcement agencies who identified Maynard early in the investigation, “These actions led to the quick arrest of Maynard before more damage was done to Forest Service lands and increasing the threat of firefighter lives. This is a great example of how cooperation between law enforcement agencies serves our public and makes us safe.”

According to court documents, Maynard set a series of fires in the Shasta Trinity National Forest and in the vicinity of the then-ongoing Dixie Fire in the Lassen National Forest. Maynard set some of his fires behind firefighters who were actively fighting the Dixie Fire, effectively surrounding these firefighters as they responded to one of the largest wildfires in California history. Maynard admitted to setting the following fires during this arson spree: the Cascade Fire (July 20, 2021), the Everitt Fire (July 21, 2021), the Ranch Fire (Aug. 7, 2021), and the Conard Fire (Aug. 7, 2021).

This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, CalFire, the California Highway Patrol, and the Lassen County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shea J. Kenny and Sam Stefanki prosecuted the case.

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