ACCOMAC, Va. (AP) - The former firefighter who confessed to setting the latest arson on the Eastern Shore of Virginia used a rag from his auto shop to light the abandoned home on fire, according to court documents released Thursday.
Charles R. Smith and his girlfriend, Tonya Bundick, have been charged with arson and conspiracy to commit arson in connection with the Monday night fire in Accomack County. State police say that the couple is responsible for all but a handful of the 77 arsons set on the Eastern Shore since November and that additional charges are expected. Smith and Bundick are due in court in May.
Smith is a former volunteer firefighter who owns an auto body shop in the Tasley community, and Bundick sells clothing out of the same building. According to search warrants released to The Associated Press on Thursday, Smith told authorities he tore a piece from a towel in his shop to light the fire.
Police seized one blanket from his shop, along with 14 white towels from the gold 1997 Plymouth Voyager minivan he and Bundick were stopped in following the house fire. The warrants say police also seized seven lighters, two cellphones, black gloves, black jackets, black hats and brown gloves. Police have also seized a plastic gas can and laptop computers from the Parksley home Bundick and Smith shared.
The first fire in the string of arsons that plagued Accomack County, which encompasses more than half of the Eastern Shore and borders Maryland, started in Parksley. Police have said that several of the arsons appear to be the work of a copycat or copycats, but they have not specified how they know that. Police have long speculated that at least two people were working together to set the majority of the fires because sometimes more than one was set on the same night, miles apart.
The search warrants provide the most complete picture yet of how Bundick and Smith set the fire.
According to the warrants, state police were conducting surveillance outside the latest home set on fire in Melfa on Monday night. After seeing a minivan stop in the roadway, they heard a vehicle door slam and could see someone run from the vehicle toward the back of the house. Police saw a flicker from a match or lighter in the back of the house, and then noticed a fire start at the rear door of the home where the person was standing, the warrants say.
As the fire started, the person ran from the home back toward the street and saw the same minivan pick up the person and head toward the main highway that runs north and south through the Eastern Shore. After the fire was extinguished, a fabric was found wedged between the frame and the rear door of the building.
The warrants say Smith admitted to Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin that he started the fire and told him that Bundick was the one who dropped him off and picked him up.