Facebook comments may have led to at least one of the Eastern Shore arsons

Posted at 8:14 PM, Jun 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-19 09:11:51-04

Accomack County, Va. - Charges against Eastern Shore arson suspects Tonya Bundick and Charles Smith III were certified by an Accomack County General District Court Judge on Monday.

Virginia State Police have said that they believe Bundick and Smith are responsible for the majority of the nearly 80 arsons that terrorized Accomack County between November 2012 and April 2013.

Court documents show that Smith has confessed to investigators that he and Bundick set more than 70 of the fires during that time period.

The charges of arson and conspiracy to commit arson that were certified Monday were for just one fire: The last one that was set at a home on Airport Road in Melfa on the night of April 1st.

In court Monday, Virginia State Troopers Troy Johnson and WH Burke Jr. testified that they had been on a surveillance operation in a tent in the woods just 40-50 yards beyond the house.

Just before midnight, Johnson, wearing night-vision goggles, saw a minivan pull up to the house and a man get out and start running to the rear of the property.

Johnson testified that he saw the man stuff some sort of material into what appeared to be a rear door and then try to light it three to four times before it caught fire. The man then took off running towards Airport Drive where the minivan appeared and picked him up.

Burke testified that he radioed in their operations and an Accomack County Sheriff's Deputy in the area closed in on the minivan as it approached a stop light. That deputy and a Virginia State Trooper in the area then initiated a traffic stop as the van made a left turn onto Route 13.

The driver, Tonya Bundick, and passenger, Charles Smith III, were then taken into custody without incident.

Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin testified in court that he heard the traffic stop over the radio and responded to the scene. There he saw Bundick sitting in a police cruiser and Smith in handcuffs.

Godwin testified that Smith looked him in the eyes and said "Todd, I'm sorry, but I didn't light them all."

In the early morning hours of April 2, both Bundick and Smith were interviewed by Virginia State Police.

In Bundick's interview at the Exmore Police Department, Virginia State Police Special Agent Keenon Hook testified that Bundick denied her involvement in the fires.

Hook said Bundick described going to Walmart and the Wine Rack with Smith the night of April 1st. They then began driving onto the back roads of Melfa, at one point stopping so that Smith could get out and urinate. It was at this point that Bundick began driving, stopping the minivan at 19322 Airport Drive in Melfa where Smith would again get out.

Bundick's interview with police would last just over 2 hours. Smith's on the other hand stretched into the early morning hours, lasting between 4 and 5 hours according to Virginia State Police Special Agent Rob Barnes.

Barnes read 10 pages of a transcript of that interview aloud in court on Monday. The interview with Smith began at 12:26 am and was done in the presence of Barnes and Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin.

Smith said in the interview that regarding the last fire on Airport Drive, he knew they were "busted" before they did it because he felt the place was a "set-up" because he'd never seen so many cars in the area before. In fact, Smith said he had found another house on a back road that he wanted to target instead. But, Smith said that Bundick was "a lot smarter" than him and said that it wasn't a set-up.

The fire, Smith said, was set using a rag from his shop and that he hadn't sprayed anything on it to accelerate the fire, saying he “never understood the rumors about cutting holes in the (expletive) floor.”

Smith described running back to the van after setting the fire and using a cell phone to communicate with Bundick.

In the portion of the interview read aloud in court, Smith also talked about how he wished he was "back on drugs" because at least then he'd have an excuse, he reasoned.

When asked by Sheriff Godwin why he set the fire, Smith said, "I'm not going to tell you why," and instead was "going to be smart" about it. He did add though that he never wanted to do it in the first place and "never enjoyed it."

However, search warrants filed in Accomack County by Virginia State Police for two Facebook accounts operated by Tonya Bundick reveal a motive for at least one of the fires.

In the affidavit for search warrant, Special Agent Hook writes "Mr. Smith specifically indicated that in one case they targeted the residence that he burned because of comments that were made to Ms. Bundick on Facebook."

The case against Bundick and Smith now moves to a grand jury, which must decided whether or not to indict them.