ACCOMAC, Va. (AP) — A former volunteer firefighter and his girlfriend were arrested Tuesday and are suspected of setting a majority of the 70 arsons on Virginia's Eastern Shore over the past five months.
Charles R. Smith III, who went by the alias Charles Applegate when he served as captain of the Tasley Volunteer Fire Department several years ago, and his girlfriend, Tonya S. Bundick, were arrested early Tuesday, shortly after an abandoned residence was set ablaze.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the pair are believed to be responsible for most of the fires set since November. Others, Geller said, appear to have been set by someone else.
"We are confident that Bundick and Smith are responsible for the majority of the fires set," Geller said.
Bundick, 40, and Smith, 38, were each charged with one count of arson and one count of conspiracy to commit arson for Monday night's blaze, and Geller said more charges should be filed soon. Both Bundick and Smith are being held in Accomack County Jail without bond, pending court appearances Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether they had attorneys.
"This is really just the beginning of the end," Geller said, adding that the investigation into the fires continues.
Court records show that police observed the fire set just before midnight Monday. The criminal complaint says authorities saw an individual get dropped off, set fire to the abandoned residence, then get picked up by the same vehicle. Authorities stopped the vehicle, and court records show Bundick was driving.
Geller refused to say whether the duo had confessed to setting the fires.
All of the arsons were set in Accomack County, which borders Maryland and encompasses more than half of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The county doesn't have an arson investigator, so state police have taken the lead and have spent thousands of man-hours working on the case since Dec. 1.
Sometimes multiple fires miles apart were set on a single night, and state police have previously said they believed at least two people were working together to set them. Police also have said there was no discernible pattern about where they were set, although each fire was set at night. During the evenings, the county is dependent on volunteer firefighters, who typically have day jobs, to respond to the fires.
Nearly all of the structures that were set on fire were abandoned or unused buildings, and there have been no reports of injuries.
Bundick and Smith live in Parksley, a small community where the first of 77 deliberately set fires was lit.
Standing in front of Bundick's small, white home with bicycles in the yard, neighbor Kenneth Peters said he was surprised by the charges. He said Bundick has lived there at least five years with her two sons, and that Smith had recently moved into the home, where Virginia State Police vehicles were parked out front Tuesday. Bundick had worked as an in-home nurse, Peters said, but she's been unemployed for more than a year.
"I wouldn't think they'd be involved in stuff like that, but you never know," Peters said.
Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin thanked the residents for their patience and support "throughout a very extensive and arduous" investigation.
Geller said more than 1,200 tips had come in since the fires began. On Tuesday, an electronic road sign along the side of the main road through the county continued to ask the public for information.
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