A 38-year-old Mountlake Terrace man was charged with Reckless Burning in the First Degree in King County Superior Court Nov. 15, for setting a fire inside the Ballinger Rite Aid on Nov. 12.
Michael John Maier, who has previous criminal convictions for theft, assault and driving under the influence, was booked into the King County Jail for the Class A Felony. Bail was set at $75,000.
Maier went into the Rite Aid at 20330 Ballinger Way in Shoreline Monday, Nov. 12 and took a 750 milliter bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label Whiskey off the shelf with the intent to leave the store without paying for it, according to probable cause statement by King County fire investigator Charles Andrews.
After taking the whiskey, Maier went into the next aisle and pulled out a butane torch to burn the security device off the bottle, according the investigator's report.
He started to hear someone coming and went to put the bottle down but the plastic device was still burning. He attempted to blow the fire out and put the bottle down on a clear area of a shlef in the cereal section of the store. He took two cereal boxes to help conceal the liquor bottle because he planned to return and pick it up later. A fire started in that aisle which the store manger discovered because she had been following Maier, who has several tattoos and had been identified by a clerk as someone who had stolen items from the store before.
The manager took a dry chemical fire extinguisher and put out the fire and assisted with evacuating the store.
While Maier waited to go pick up the liquor bottle he took some razors and was in the process of breaking off the security device on them when he heard the alarm go off. He ditched the razors and went to get a dozen eggs and check out. He paid for the eggs and then went back into the store before eventually leaving.
About seven staff members and customers were in the store at the time of the fire.
Liquor theft in retail stores has been common since a state-wide liquor privatization initative was passed by the voters in Nov. 2011 and went into effect in June.
"It's the first one we've done wehre someone has tried to burn a secuirty device off a liquor bottle," said Craig Muller, fire investigation supervisor for the King County Sheriff's Office. "It's a fire that didn't need to happen."
"I'm glad we caught him," Muller said. "We take these exceedingly serious."
Sentencing for first-degree arson can range from five to 20 years, depending on the previous criminal record of the defendant.