Gator Shaw had been a free man for all of nine days. But back in June, on Father’s Day, the grandpa who raised him called the law to the family farm in southern Crawford County.
The Shaw spread measures some 1,100 acres. They grow cotton and raise cattle there east of Byron, not too far from Interstate 75. The first thing Gator had done when he got home from prison on June 8 was hop on a tractor.
He was supposed to visit his probation officer that first day. His kin said he didn’t do that because he had been using drugs in prison and feared he would flunk the required drug test.
Within a week and a half, by the afternoon of June 17, Father’s Day, Gator had stirred up more trouble. He had taken his grandfather John L. Shaw’s Chevy Silverado pickup without permission.
When a sheriff’s deputy was summoned, the deputy learned that Gator, 26, had by then returned and was carrying a pistol. The deputy, Myron Sapp, in his haste, left his patrol car unlocked and rushed to track down Gator. But Gator took off behind a farm house.
The authorities say Gator — whose prison stints began in 2014 and 2017, and whose convictions, which date to 2010, include possession of meth, burglary, eluding police and aggravated stalking — then doubled back, jumped in the deputy’s cruiser and sped off.
Gator was at the wheel of the black-and-white 2017 Ford Taurus patrol car for maybe 15 minutes before a Crawford sheriff’s deputy spotted him. For the next 10 minutes, Gator raced down country lanes and two-lane highways. He swooped past more than 30 other cars, six times topping 100 mph.
He hit 110 mph in one stretch before sliding off a road into a patch of trees at 60 mph. He survived the crash and on Wednesday was in Crawford Superior Court to plead guilty.
He could have faced up to 50 years behind bars as a repeat offender for, among other things, trying to outrun the police, for having a pistol, for wrecking the car and for taking his grandpa’s truck.
The prison term hanging in the balance Wednesday, part of his negotiated plea, would send him away for anywhere from five to 10 years.
Prosecutors wanted the maximum. They argued that despite Shaw’s drug troubles his high-speed run from the cops back on Father’s Day had put dozens at risk and demanded stiff punishment — including banishment from the county.
Shaw’s kin and his lawyer asked Judge David L. Mincey III for leniency.
A Baptist preacher from Macon who came to know and counsel Shaw after his most recent arrest and jail stay spoke on Shaw’s behalf.
“There’s some unusual things about Gator,” the pastor, J. Craig Holmes of Gilead Baptist Church, said.
Holmes said that in all his ministering, he never had a prisoner fess up.
“Right up front,” Holmes recalled Shaw saying, “he said, ‘I’m guilty ... I know I’m wrong. ... I need help.’”
Much of Wednesday’s two-hour proceeding revolved around that very topic: How to repair a young man, a ninth-grade dropout, mired in drugs while still sending him to prison.
Shaw’s lawyer, Debra G. Gomez, told of Shaw’s tumultuous formative years when he struggled with emotional and behavioral woes, turning to drugs to ease the pain. But his trouble, she said, “goes beyond drugs,” that he may require mental-health treatment.
Assistant district attorney Neil Halvorson said, “Mr. Shaw has had previous opportunities” to remedy “whatever might be the underlying nature of Mr. Shaw’s behavior.”
Sheriff Lewis Walker said Shaw comes from “a hard-working family.”
“He’s a young man,” the sheriff said, “but he has got to make better choices.”
Gator Leon Shaw, a bulky 6-foot-2 with a crew cut and thick neck, takes his name not from his stocky, wide-body appearance, but rather from his family’s affinity for the University of Florida Gators, who were a football powerhouse back in the early 1990s when he was born.
Gator’s 72-year-old grandfather, John L. Shaw who raised him from the time he was a baby, testified Wednesday and blamed himself for Gator’s unlawful ways.
The senior Shaw, shaken and tearful at times and apparently still on the mend from a rattlesnake bite earlier this year, said he had himself served seven years in a prison camp. He didn’t say what he had been locked up for or when exactly, just that he was wrongly convicted and that he served as a dog boy, a dog handler who tracks inmates who run off.
John Shaw said that Gator, at age 12 or so, had it “sprung on him” that John Shaw was not his father.
“He learned that I wasn’t his real daddy. Then he learned, you know, all the cold, hard facts of what I was. ... And then he gets on drugs,” John Shaw said.
He mentioned that banishing Gator from Crawford County would bar Gator from the family farm, which John Shaw said he has willed a portion of to Gator. He also spoke of what will become of Gator if he can’t get the help he needs.
“I’ve been in prison, sir,” John Shaw told the judge. “There’s more drugs in prison than there are on the street. ... But this boy, you might as well give him the electric chair today. To sentence him to prison ain’t gonna help. ... What do you do? ... Your honor, he needs help.”
Judge Mincey replied, “There’s only one somebody that can help Mr. Gator Shaw, and that’s Mr. Gator Shaw.”
Later, Gator Shaw apologized to his grandpa.
“It’s not your fault,” Gator said.
When he spoke on his own behalf, he told the judge, “I am sorry to be standing before you again. ... If I had been sober, none of this would have happened.”
Then the judge told him, “You’re not going to get better until you decide to get better. ... You are going to get out of prison one day and have an opportunity to do better. ... It’s up to you.”
The judge sentenced him to 10 years behind bars and 10 more on probation, but he didn’t banish Gator from the county.
“Good luck, Mr. Shaw,” the judge said.
As he was led away, one of Gator’s brothers caught his eye and said, “Stay strong.”