Following an arrest initially made in March of 2011, the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) is crediting the successful conviction of the crime to “Blaze,” the agency’s arson dog. Brian Keith Wilson, a 46-year-old Stapleton man, pleaded guilty on May 4 to charges of Reckless Burning. He was fined $1,000 and placed on two years probation. The AFC’s arson bloodhound, Blaze, was instrumental in the investigation and subsequent arrest of Wilson last year after several wildfires were set in the Stapleton area of Baldwin County. The dog was scented off evidence at a location where the suspect had been observed by eye witnesses, then tracked the scent to a house in which Wilson was found.
Meanwhile, another recent arrest resulted from an investigation in which Blaze played a significant role. AFC Law Enforcement Chief Craig Hill reported that Darren Mitchell Lavender, 47 years of age of Mobile, was charged with Reckless Burning on May 10. The AFC’s arson bloodhound had been requested by Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries officials earlier this year to assist in locating Lavender who had evaded arrest by game wardens. It is alleged that the suspect set several fires as a diversion to aid his escape. Blaze was scented off evidence found at the scene, and tracking the scent, has placed the suspect at the scene of the fires. Reckless Burning, a “Class A” misdemeanor, carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and/or up to a $6000 fine. Lavender was also charged with Hunting Without Permission and Failure to Wear Hunter’s Orange by the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.
According to Chief Hill, canines have been used in law enforcement for years to locate evidence and people. As with fingerprints, each person has a unique scent. Blaze’s ability to track a human scent has added a whole new dimension to the AFC’s law enforcement tool box.
The Alabama Forestry Commission is committed to reducing the number of forestry-related crimes that occur each year across the state. These crimes generate losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to landowners, the timber industry, and Alabama’s economy. The AFC provides a Wildland Arson/Forest Crimes Hotline so that citizens can call and report theft of timber, vandalism or theft of harvesting equipment, or wildland arson. This toll-free number is (800) 222-2927. Any information provided is confidential and the caller remains anonymous.
This release reports an arrest only. All suspects are innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.