PITTSBURG — The McCune woman who is accused of setting a string of arson fires in the small Crawford County town was caught when a resident allegedly spotted her leaving the scene of the most recent fire.
According to a probable cause affidavit submitted by Kansas Fire Marshal’s Office Investigator Anthony Celeste, and released by the Crawford County District Court after a request by the Morning Sun, the resident — whose name has been redacted — observed a “slightly heavy set” blonde woman walking down Brunetti Drive at about 11:30 p.m., July 3, toward the residence at 306 6th Street in McCune.
The McCune man said he saw the woman, later identified as Sherry L. Kerby, walk toward the south side of the residence, where she was out of sight for a few minutes. According to the affidavit, Kerby was then seen walking away from the residence and shortly after leaving the property the resident saw “an orange glow” coming from the side of the house whereupon firefighters were called.
The resident, who also helped to fight the fire, again allegedly saw Kerby near the fire and notified dispatchers that the suspect was near the scene and described her as “stumbling as she walked” and appearing “intoxicated.”
Celeste arrested Kerby on July 9, and she was questioned in regards seven of the 13 structure fires which have occured in McCune since Sept. 5, 2015.
The results of the questioning have been redacted, although it is clear that in at least one case Kerby was shown a picture of the burned home.
She has been charged with six counts of residential arson and one count of aggravated arson.
The aggravated arson charge stems from the May 29, 2017, fire at 703 S. 6th street in which a husband, wife and two children were home when the fire was allegedly set.
Kerby's arrest was made after almost 3 years of investigation by the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office and the Crawford County Sheriff's Office.
In August of last year the McCune City Council offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for a string of arsons in the area.
Aggravated arson, is a level 3 person felony, carrying a possible 55 to 247 month prison sentence, 36 months post release supervision and a potential fine $300,000 fine plus any restitution.
Residential arson, is a level 6 felony, carrying a potential sentence of 17 to 46 months incarceration 24 months post release supervision and up to a $100,000 fine plus any restitution.
District Court Judge Kurtis Loy appointed Mark Fern to represent Kerby, and set bond at $250,000. She remains in the Crawford County Jail awaiting trial.
If convicted on all counts, Kerby could more than 43 years in prison.
Although Kerby was arrested in the matter, these and other arsons remain under investigation by the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office. Anyone having information related to these incidents, or other crimes, is urged to contact CRSO at 620-724-8274, or the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office at 785-296-3401.
Her next court date is set for August 23 in Girard.
— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.