MADERA COUNTY — When Michael Lapschies was sentenced on Sept. 26 to 12 years in prison for lighting a series of fires in the Bass Lake area in 2015, and making threats against his ex-wife Amanda Skye-Ritchie, she was not at all satisfied that he would actually serve anywhere near the term imposed by the Bass Lake Superior Court.
On the afternoon of Sept. 30, 2015, between 2:45 and 5:30 p.m., firefighters responded to a series of fires in the Bass Lake area — three on Road 222 near the Old Corral Store, one near Skylake Camp on the south shore of Bass Lake, and four more directly behind the Cal Fire Station on Road 223.
Madera County Sheriff’s deputies located Michael Lapschies, then age 40, on Road 420 in a white Ford pickup shortly after the Road 223 fires were reported. A search of the vehicle revealed a cell phone with a Cal Fire scanner app running, a replica MMP airsoft pistol, a dagger in Lapschies’s right boot, and a cigarette lighter.
Sgt. Larry Rich testified at the preliminary hearing on Mar. 17, 2016, and told the court that upon taking Lapschies into custody, the suspect “told me he loved me and that he was only trying to put the fires out.”
When Cal Fire investigator Battalion Chief Bernie Quinn arrived at the scene of the arrest, Lapschies told him he had been out fighting fires along Road 222, Quinn testified.
“Then a little ways into the interview, he looked at me and said, ‘I started all the fires.’ Mr. Lapschies told me he used his Dallas Cowboys blue cigarette lighter to light the fires.”
Chief Quinn also testified that Lapschies told him he lit the fires near Skylake Camp because he had been molested there, but then said he didn’t light them, and had PTSD and couldn’t remember. He also told Quinn that he lit the fires by the Cal Fire station “because those piles needed to be cleaned up for wildlife habitat.”
Lapshies’s ex-wife Amanda Skye-Ritchie says that she and her children have been suffering for 12 years from what she describes as “emotional abuse, physical abuse, and pure terror” inflicted by Michael Lapschies.
Skye-Ritchie testified that earlier on the day of the fires, Lapschies had contacted her to say he had been released from a mental hospital, and was waiting at a local bar to go “smoke jumping with somebodies.”
“He said that because I refused to go to hell, he was going to bring hell to me,” said Skye-Ritchie.
She also testified that he left dozens of very erratic messages that day, including one that said he was purchasing his parents’ home around the corner from her, and that he had a room for their son, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum and Tourettes Syndrome.
In a letter to the court, Skye-Ritchie told the judge that her 11-year-old son has regular panic attacks, brought on by the fear that Lapschies “will come and take him away and he’ll never be able to find me.”
She also said that her son is terrified that “if Mr. Lapschies is released from prison before he turns 18 that he will be forced to see him and no amount of consoling has been effective in convincing him otherwise.”
At the preliminary hearing, Skye-Ritchie told the court that on the day of the fires, Lapschies told her that “he had had a conversation with God and the devil, and they they were planning on executing judgments on evildoers, and I was on the top of their list.”
In addition to being charged with eight counts of arson, Lapschies was also charged with “threatening to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person” for his threats against Skye-Ritchie.
“He seemed very adamant that he would do anything required to have our son, and because he has been physically abusive with me in the past and seemed extremely unstable, I felt that he was in a frame of mind where he would absolutely cause physical harm if necessary,” Skye-Ritchie told the court.
She also testified that Lapschies has sent her photos of himself with an ex-girlfriend in which they were both holding weapons, and that she felt very threatened by him.
After the preliminary hearing, Lapschies changed his plea to “not guilty by reason of insanity.” That led to psychiatric examinations which determined that he was indeed competent to stand trial, and after many more months of delay, he withdrew the plea.
On Aug. 8, 2017, Lapschies agreed to plead guilty to eight counts of arson and “no contest” to one count of felony threats.
On Sept. 26, Lapschies was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his crimes, however, under the Prop. 57 guidelines, he will be eligible to petition for release after serving his time for just one primary offense — four years for one count of arson, which is not considered a “violent” crime.
On the day of sentencing, the offense of Penal Code 451 (c), “arson of a structure or forest land,” was assigned a term of four years. With credit for time served of 1,096 days (which equals 3 years) – which included good time/work time credits – Lapschies will be eligible to petition for release in a matter of months.
“He could be out within a year,” said Ritchie, who still has a restraining order against Lapschies. “I will have to leave this community to protect my child. There is no protection for the victim. He knew just how to work the system and stretch out his time in county jail. Every time he commits a crime, he is able to walk free with minimal consequences, and I don’t want the public to believe he will actually serve 12 years.”
Lapschies was arrested in Madera County in March 2014 for DUI, and again in September 2015 for Drunk and Disorderly and Resisting Arrest. He also has two arrest records in Fresno County in 2013.