Lake Park firefighter charged with arson
Lake Park, MN (Forum News Service) - A Lake Park firefighter is facing arson charges for allegedly setting several grass fires last year. Michael Lyn Gullard, 35, has been summoned to appear in court March 9 to face the felony charges. Fellow Lak...
Lake Park, MN (Forum News Service) - A Lake Park firefighter is facing arson charges for allegedly setting several grass fires last year.
Michael Lyn Gullard, 35, has been summoned to appear in court March 9 to face the felony charges. Fellow Lake Park firefighters started to become suspicious after a sharp increase in grass fires that happened throughout April and May last year.
“It was a wet year – it was raining in June when we were having all these fires,” said Lake Park Police Chief Jay Nelson, who was also a volunteer firefighter at the time. “We knew somebody had to be starting them.”
The fires that were popping up around the Lake Park area were isolated, in that other neighboring departments were not experiencing a large number of grass fires.
Lake Park Fire Chief Vance Larson says a lot of the fires were being set on Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries land.
Upon talking with DNR officers, Larson says they began to pinpoint exactly who would show up to every single fire.
Gullard was one of them. It also happens that he had just joined the department only a couple of months before the fires began.
Nelson and Larson contacted the Becker County Sheriff’s Office and the BCA, and an investigation was launched.
According to the complaint filed in Becker County District Court, investigators obtained the 911 phone calls from the fires, after which time officials identified the caller’s voice as Gullard’s.
Investigators then obtained Gullard’s cell phone records, which showed the 911 calls.
The complaint states that a search warrant was then obtained to put a tracking device on Gullard’s vehicle.
When another grass fire popped up Aug. 3, burning an acre and a half of brush and wooded area, forestry investigators determined it was arson.
Authorities then matched Gullard’s tracking device to the location of the fire during the time it would have started. Not only did that match up to Gullard, but according to the report, so did his pickup’s tire tracks that were allegedly left at the scene.
“We had some pretty big ones (grass fires), too,” said Larson. “I don’t know if he set them or not, but there were a couple that burned 40, 60 acres of fish and wildlife land.”
Although Gullard hasn’t officially been taken off the fire department yet, authorities did strip him of his pager and keys to the department.
Investigators are not disclosing a motive in the case, but Nelson says the volunteer firefighters get paid very little for calls.
“So I doubt it had anything to do with money – I’m sure it was all for the thrill of it,” said Nelson.
Although Gullard was not on the department very long, Larson says this is a strange case that is disheartening to the rest of firefighters.
“You’ve got a guy that wants to serve his community by volunteering to help the city, and then he’s allegedly the one causing the damage… I’ve never seen this here before,” said Larson.
But arson isn’t the first charge Gullard has faced.
His criminal record shows he was convicted of various crimes that span between 1998 and 2008 and include burglary, theft, careless driving, driving after revocation and dishonored checks.
Larson says the city does do a background check on employees, and the department did know about Gullard’s past infractions.
“But we all thought… well, it has been several years since he’s gotten in trouble, he’s got a wife and settled down now, he’s probably fine,” said Larson.
If Gullard is convicted, he faces five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.