A man linked to arson-related activity in Mount Airy in the spring of 2016 has received a prison sentence of nearly five years.
Michael Chad Shaw, 45, who was living at 114 Spring Water Trail at the time of his arrest last year, recently pleaded guilty in Surry County Superior Court to charges of burning an uninhabited building, a felony, and larceny, stemming from an investigation by the city police and fire departments.
Those violations stemmed from a fire on May 13, 2016 that caused $30,000 in damage to a home at 2038 Springs Road owned by Betty Hawks Ausburne, which Police Chief Dale Watson has said was set with “a simplistic incendiary device.” Another blaze had occurred on April 2 at a garage in the same location.
For overall sentencing purposes, the burning case was consolidated with an unrelated one in which Shaw had been charged with breaking into a house of worship elsewhere in Surry County in August 2012, and an offense of assault inflicting serious bodily injury from August 2013. Both are felonies.
Shaw received a total active prison term of four years and 10 months for the three charges.
In addition, as part of a plea agreement, he received a probationary sentence on six other violations.
These included the misdemeanor larceny offense issued in May 2016 and another larceny violation committed in December 2014. Also on the list were a felony charge of larceny after breaking and entering filed in connection with the church entry in August 2012, breaking and entering of vehicles (November 2013), communicating threats (June 2015) and possession of a Schedule II controlled substance (September 2015).
Shaw is now serving the active portion of his sentence at Piedmont Correctional Institution in Salisbury.
Closing a chapter
His incarceration has closed the book on a tense period occurring in Mount Airy in 2016, according to Chris Fallaw, the city’s fire marshal and assistant fire chief.
“We had a streak of fires that had us all concerned that were suspicious in nature,” Fallaw said Wednesday. This included three at the northern end of town during a 90-minute span within a half-mile of each other, of which the garage blaze was one.
“He (Shaw) was a common denominator in a few of our fires,” the fire marshal added of him being placed at the scenes. “He had been on our radar for a long time.”
However, investigators were unable to generate enough evidence to bring the man to trial on any cases other than what he recently pleaded guilty to, Falaw said.
While accidental fires can be enough of a problem for public safety personnel, those that are intentionally set pose unique concerns, which can be triggered by revenge or other factors.
“Depending on the motive,” Fallaw said of whatever the perpetrator is seeking to accomplish, “you never know what you’ve got, and that instills fear in the community.”
Sometimes arsonists engage in a pattern in which they start small, such as setting outbuildings on fire, and then progress to homes and other occupied structures, he said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.