FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
For Information Contact:
District Man Sentenced to 25-Year Prison Term
For Series of Arsons in Densely Populated City Neighborhoods
Several Firefighters Were Hurt in One of the Blazes;
Fires Caused Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Damages
WASHINGTON - Maurice Dews, 27, of Washington, D.C., was sentenced today to 25 years in prison on arson and other charges stemming from a series of fires in the District of Columbia over a period of 3 ½ years that ended with his arrest last summer.
Dews pled guilty in November 2011 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to five counts of arson. In addition, he pled guilty to four counts of aggravated assault while armed stemming from a fire he started in April 2011 in a vacant single-family home in Northeast Washington. Four firefighters were seriously hurt in the fire.
Dews was sentenced by the Honorable Ann O’Regan Keary. Upon completion of his prison term, Dews will be placed on five years of supervised release.
The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., Daniel Kumor, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, and Kenneth B. Ellerbe, Chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
According to a statement of facts signed by the government and the defendant, Dews started at least five fires in the District between January 2008 and June 2011. In addition, the defendant accepted responsibility in the statement of facts to three fires in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Dews typically surveyed the residences before he committed the fires and frequently sought out vacant apartment units and townhouses, which were located in densely populated areas. After setting these structures ablaze, he often called 911 himself to report the fires.
“This serial arsonist endangered human life by setting fire to residences across D.C. and Prince George's County,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Four brave firefighters were seriously injured because of his destructive, reckless behavior. Our community is safer because Mr. Dews is no longer free to set homes ablaze in the dead of night.”
“ATF has always treated arson as a crime of violence,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Kumor. “Thanks to the outstanding work of the ATF agents, MPD detectives, and D.C. and Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Services investigators, the person responsible for the serious injuries of four brave firefighters will spend a significant amount of time behind bars.”
“Mr. Dews caused life-changing injuries to these firefighters, and destroyed homes in densely populated neighborhoods,” said Chief Lanier. “This sentence won't heal the firefighters' injuries, but we hope that it will cause others to think twice before committing arson in the future.”
“On behalf of the District’s Fire and EMS Department, we want to praise the efforts of the U.S. Attorney and all the cooperating agencies who partnered in the investigation and ultimate outcome of this case,” said Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Bruce D. Faust. “We are satisfied with the sentence given to Mr. Dews and hope that a strong message has been sent to those individuals who think they can get away with the crime of arson.”
In the statement of facts, Dews admitted starting these fires:
January 4, 2008: Dews entered a vacant unit inside a multi-story, occupied elderly community in the 4600 block of Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE and intentionally set a fire at about 12:15 a.m. The fire and smoke spread, forcing the residents of the building to evacuate. The fire caused approximately $15,000 in damage.
March 15, 2011: Dews entered a storage garage of an otherwise occupied single-family residence in an attached rowhouse in the 3500 block of Hertford Street NW at about 4 p.m. and intentionally set a fire. Soon afterward, he called 911 to notify authorities of the blaze. The fire caused damage to items in the garage. Had it not been extinguished, it could have threatened to damage adjoining property and threatened the security of people living in the area.
April 8, 2011: Dews entered a vacant single-family home in the 800 block of 48th Place NE at about 12:30 a.m. and intentionally set a fire. Although it was empty, the building is near several other occupied residences in a densely populated neighborhood. The fire quickly spread, threatening to consume the building and adjoining homes. Afterward, Dews was seen by at least two witnesses hiding suspiciously in the shadows and walking around the burning building.
As the fire continued to spread, Dews called 911. He also knocked on the door of a home next door to the fire to inform residents of the blaze. The household included two parents and several children, including a five-year-old. The fire caused about $152,000 in damage to the vacant home and another $20,000 in damage to the residence next door.
Members of D.C. Fire/EMS Rescue Squad # 3 were among the first responders, and they entered the residence, having no idea that the place was vacant, in order to save anyone who might be stranded inside. They soon realized that the fire was near its “flashpoint,” or the point in which the heat was growing so intense that the entire house could become engulfed in flames. Just as they began to exit, the fire escalated, and four firefighters suffered serious bodily injuries. These fire and rescue squad members – Charles “Chucky” Ryan III, Ramon Hounshell, Lt. Robert Alverado and Warren “Mike” Deavers - were hospitalized after the fire and are permanently scarred from their burns. A fifth member - Teddy Douglas - also suffered burns.
June 14, 2011: Dews entered a vacant single-family residence in the 4500 block of Grant Street NE just after midnight and intentionally started a fire. He left the building and called 911, and also alerted two residents next door to the fire. The fire caused about $202,000 in damage to the structure and another $20,000 in damage to the residence next door.
June 23, 2011: Dews entered a vacant single-family home in the 5000 block of Hayes Street NE, again just after midnight, and in another densely populated area that included a home for the elderly. He intentionally started a fire that caused about $249,000 in damage. Witnesses observed Dews staring at the fire as emergency personnel arrived to combat the flames.
The statement of offense also ties Dews to three fires in Prince George’s County. They include fires May 1, 2007, in a vacant home in the 7600 block of Allendale Circle; Dec. 31, 2010, in a vacant home in the 3900 block of Warner Avenue, and May 2, 2011, in a vacant apartment in the 3900 block of Warner Avenue.
Dews was arrested July 6, 2011 and has been in custody ever since. Following his arrest, he admitted that he had set a number of fires in the District and in Maryland.
The guilty plea in the District of Columbia was part of a broader plea agreement that also covered offenses in Maryland. Under terms of the plea agreement, following today’s sentencing, Dews is to plead guilty to three counts of first-degree arson in Maryland. If approved by the judge in Maryland, Dews would be sentenced to 15 years in prison for those crimes. That prison time would run concurrently with the sentence imposed today.
The fires were investigated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD); the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department. The cases are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Office from Prince George’s County.
In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Machen. Acting Special Agent in Charge Kumor, Chief Lanier, and Chief Ellerbe praised the bravery and dedication of all of the emergency responders who responded to the fires, particularly the injured firefighters from Rescue Squad # 3. They also commended the efforts of Investigators Keith Byrd and Tomi Rucker, of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, as well as ATF investigators Steve Avato and Laura Michonis; MPD Detectives Todd Gray and Frank Molino, and Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department Battalion Chief Paul Gomez. They also acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegals Tony Griffith and Antoinette Sakamsa.
Finally, they thanked Assistant Maryland State’s Attorney Christine Murphy, who is prosecuting the case in Prince George’s County, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ephraim (Fry) Wernick, who is prosecuting the case in the District of Columbia.