After 77 arson fires scorched 455 square miles of Virginia’s Eastern Shore since November, authorities are touting a pair of arrests.
Police arrested Tonya Bundick, 40, and her fiance, Charles Smith III, 38, a former volunteer firefighter who also uses the name Charles Applegate, early Tuesday after observing their gold minivan near the scene of a fire at a vacant, residential structure on Monday night, authorities said.
Bundick and Smith, who live together with Bundick’s two children in Parksley, Va., each are facing one count of arson and one count of conspiracy to commit arson.
Additional charges may be filed soon, authorities said.
“We are confident that Bundick and Smith are responsible for the majority of the fires since Nov. 12 of last year,” Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told reporters Tuesday. “We now have a very complex prosecution ahead of us due to the sheer number of arson these people are responsible for setting.”
There were no injuries during the fires, but the wave of arson that swept the county of 33,000 left many residents on edge.
“[The arson] makes people scared to go out at night, to do anything,” Willis Truitt, a neighbor to the suspects, told ABC News affiliate WJLA. ”It was just a matter of time before somebody got hurt, that’s for sure.”
Bundick was given a court-appointed attorney at an arraignment on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. That attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
An attorney for Smith also did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Both Bundick and Smith are scheduled to return to court on May 6.
Those who were acquainted with the suspects were surprised by the arrest.
“Charlie seemed like he was very honest,” said Matt Hart, who founded the company Eastern Shore Arsonist Hunters and has hired Smith to work on his car. “He cared about what he did and he cared about his reputation.”
Smith was, however, was found guilty of forgery in 1994 and given a three-year sentence, which was suspended.
Locals said they were breathing a sigh of relief now that arrests have been made.
“Having the arson happen was one of the lowest points of my life,” Hart said. “I couldn’t work until he was caught. I couldn’t concentrate on my work.”
Now, Hart will donate $6,000 he has raised through Eastern Shore Arsonist Hunters to a general fund set up for arson relief and local firehouses.
Tina Morales, who lives two doors down from the couple under arrest, told WJLA, “I’m just glad it’s over with so we can get back to normal around here.”