Serial arsonist arrested for setting 9 fires

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Shelbyville man says he was trying to relieve stress.

By Lisa King

Landmark News Service

James Aaron Clark, 27, of Shelbyville, was arrested Wednesday on nine arson-related charges, after admitting that he set the fires as a way to relieve stress.  

Shelby County Sheriff's Detective Jason Rice said that Clark is charged with one count of first-degree arson, a felony that carries a penalty of 20 years to life, three counts of second-degree arson, also a felony, and seven counts of criminal mischief related to the fires in Shelby and Henry counties.

Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Robert Goodwin said that during interrogation Clark admitted that he set them intentionally.

Goodwin said Clark, who lives with his mother on Ellis Road, said that setting fires was his way of getting rid of stress. "When he gets upset, that's his way of relieving his aggression,” Goodwin said.

Clark is lodged at the Shelby County Detention Center under a $100,000 bond. He was arraigned Tuesday at Shelby District Court, but has not yet received a court date. He declined an interview with the Sentinel-News.

Goodwin said the fires Clark is charged with setting happened between July 2007 and this October.

They include a barn fire on the corner of Mulberry and North Gage Roads, a fire at Stony Point, several fires in the Eminence area, an abandoned house on La Grange Road and a hay fire on Mullberry Road, the latter two, both in

the last two weeks.

"Altogether, we're looking at a loss of property valued at $200,000 plus, and that's a conservative estimate,” Rice said.

Goodwin said fire department officials began to get suspicious because several times Clark had called them to ask questions about the burning ban. In addition, he had called in to report several of the fires.

"Then this past Wednesday, he called in a fire, and I questioned him on how he knew about the fire, and in the course of that conversation, he admitting setting the fires,” he said.

Rice said that he doesn't think Clark's goal was to harm anyone.

"I truly feel like his intention was not to hurt anybody, that's why he only burned abandoned houses and barns, but he wasn't thinking about the possibility of the firefighters getting hurt,” he said.

Rice said a firefighter was injured last July in a fire set by Clark when he fell through the roof of a burning structure and broke his foot. That injury precipitated the charge of first-degree arson, because an injury was incurred because of the fire.

Second-degree arson is a Class B felony, which carries a penalty of 10-20 years. Clark is charged with two of those, as well as seven counts of criminal mischief, which are also felonies, carrying a sentence of 5-10 years.

Criminal mischief as it relates to arson is when the fire involves property instead of a structure. Clark incurred these charges by setting hay bales on fire, Rice said.

Rice said Clark told him that he had been having some unspecified problems.

"He said he had been having some issues he was battling, and when he was overcome by stress, he would set fires,” he said. "In 12 years of law enforcement, I've never seen anything quite like this -- a serial arsonist.”

Rice said he doesn't know if Clark has committed arson in counties other than Shelby and Henry, but he has contacted fire departments in surrounding counties to notify them of the situation.

"They will research their files to see if they had have similar kinds of fires,” he said.

Jeff Ivers, Assistant Shelby County Fire Chief, said the arson investigation was a team effort between the fire department, the fire marshal and the sheriff's office.

"We plotted the location of the fires and put them on a map,” he said. "Then we put some other factors together and submitted what we thought to the sheriff's office.”

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