Man receives 10-year sentence for setting ex-girlfriend’s apartment on fire

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Stephen Nathaniel Salas, 45, was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for setting his ex-girlfriend’s apartment on fire.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – A Safford man will spend the next decade behind bars after putting residents of the Sunshine Valley Apartments at risk while dealing with the end of a relationship.

Stephen Nathaniel Salas, 45, was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for setting his ex-girlfriend’s apartment on fire.

The sentence was the result of a plea agreement Salas reached with prosecutors in November. Salas agreed to plead guilty to arson of an occupied structure – a Class-2 felony and threatening or intimidating – a Class-1 misdemeanor, in accordance with the state dropping additional charges of a second arson count, burglary in the second degree, and criminal damage. 

While Graham County Probation recommended a 5-year sentence, Graham County Attorney-elect L. Scott Bennett petition the court for more, and Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Peterson sentenced Salas to the maximum term available of 10 years in prison. Salas was represented by attorney Barry Standifird. 

Police and firefighters were initially dispatched at about 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 to a structure fire at the Sunshine Valley Apartments at 1901 S. 20th Ave. The apartment was one of four in a single building, with other tenants at home in their apartments, including a 92-year-old woman. 

Officers gained entry into the apartment and utilized a fire extinguisher in the apartment to put out the fire.

After dousing the blaze, officers spoke to several witnesses who advised Salas had been yelling at the apartment and had broken the windows. The witnesses reported seeing Salas banging on the back door and yelling just prior to seeing a flash come out of the apartment. “It was like a big boom,” one witness reportedly advised. “It was like a flash, like a Molotov (cocktail) thing or something like that.”

“He was screaming and it was really, really scary,” another witness advised, who said Salas was yelling at the apartment as if the tenant was home, however, she was not.

Safford Fire arrived at the scene and identified the frame of a chair located in the apartment as the likely source of the blaze. Two cans of body spray were also collected as evidence.

An officer later spoke with the resident of the apartment that was burned, who advised she had broken up with Salas the day prior. The victim said Salas initially confronted her earlier in the evening around 12 p.m. and wanted to get back together. After rebuking his advances, Salas returned around 7 p.m. and she noticed he was intoxicated. After leaving the apartment, Salas reportedly called the victim at about 10:10 p.m. and was yelling and calling her names. She said she called a friend to pick her up and when she was leaving she noticed Salas by her apartment and that he was yelling obscenities at her.

After leaving, she said she received another phone call from Salas, who continued to yell obscenities and then threatened to kill her. During the phone call, she advised she could hear items breaking.

The apartment had extensive smoke and heat damage and was covered with soot and showed damage as if someone had thrown objects against the walls. More blood droplets were discovered inside and were collected as evidence as well.

After witnesses positively identified Salas and gave officers his direction of travel, officers followed a blood trail and Salas was apprehended in the apartment complex by the laundry building at about 10:41 p.m.

Salas had a laceration on his hand, which was tended to by paramedics with Lifeline Ambulance prior to his incarceration. According to the report, Salas also appeared to be intoxicated.