Gary Stephen Maynard, 49, pleaded guilty to three counts of arson to federal property in Sacramento federal court before U.S. District Judge Daniel J. Calabretta.
Maynard, who is being held without bail in the Yuba County Jail, was arrested in August 2021 after a three-week investigation that included the use of a tracking device hidden on his vehicle by authorities who followed his movements throughout Northern California for hundreds of miles, court papers say.
“It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree,” court papers filed after his arrest say.
Maynard worked teaching part-time at various schools, including Santa Clara University, where he was an adjunct faculty member in the sociology department from September 2019 to December 2020, and at Sonoma State University, where he was a lecturer in the fall of 2020 specializing in criminal justice, cults and deviant behavior
He described himself in court Thursday as a “college professor” with a PhD in sociology and a history of being diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome — a disorder on the autism spectrum — and identified himself as “Dr. Gary Maynard” as he stood before the judge in orange jail garb and a waist chain.
Plea agreement documents filed in court Thursday say a search of Maynard’s vehicle after his arrest “recovered a number of devices, such as lighters, that could be used to set a fire.”
The search also turned up digital devices with “several hours” of audio and video recordings of Maynard “discussing arson, making threatening statements about arson., stating that he was going to commit arson, and, based on Maynard’s statements and the sound of matches being struck, appearing to attempt to commit arson,” court documents say.
Maynard first came to authorities’ attention on July 20, 2021, when the Cascade Fire was reported on the western slope of Mount Shasta.
Mountain bikers reported the fire and helped keep it from spreading beyond 100 to 200 square feet in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Siskiyou County.
A U.S. Forest Service investigator who responded to the scene found Maynard under a black Kia Soul that had its front wheels stuck in a ditch and its undercarriage centered over a boulder, court papers say.
Maynard told the Forest Service investigator he was a professor, and a witness in a nearby vehicle later told authorities that Maynard seemed angry, had displayed a large knife and was “mumbling a lot and having bipolar-like behavior,” court papers say.
The next day, a second fire erupted at 2:50 a.m. on Mount Shasta near the Everitt Memorial Highway, and investigators later found tire tracks similar to those made by the Kia hatchback, court papers say.
Investigators tracked Maynard’s movements through his electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, card used for public assistance and by placing a tracking device on his vehicle, court papers say.
Maynard was tracked to an area where the Ranch Fire and Conard Fire burned in the Lassen National Forest and was arrested while he was found inside an emergency closure area in place for the Dixie Fire, court papers say.
“He entered the evacuation zone and began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie Fire,” court papers say of the blaze that was the second-largest in California history and burned nearly 1 million acres in five counties.
After being booked into the Lassen County Jail following his arrest, Maynard maintained he had nothing to do with the fires, court papers say.
“I’m going to kill you, f—— pig!” he screamed, according to court documents. “I told those f—— I didn’t start any of those fires!”
Maynard faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and is scheduled to be sentenced May 9.