ACCOMACK COUNTY- Investigators found footprints on the ground and police dogs picked up a scent after a fire at a housing complex for farm laborers 14 months ago in southern Accomack County. Law-enforcement agencies refer to it as “count 52” facing Tonya Bundick, the 41-year-old Hopeton resident indicted on 62 arson charges in December.
It is the next one for which Bundick, already convicted of one arson, will be tried. “I will arraign her on count 52 first,” Circuit Judge Glen A. Tyler said in Accomack Circuit Court on Thursday.
Bundick, wet from a hard rain, looked the judge in the eye and, with a steady voice, pleaded not guilty to all 62 counts during the proceeding. She is entitled to be tried separately on each, Tyler has ruled.
The jury trial on count 52, set for July 14 in Virginia Beach, will be about a March 3, 2013, fire that destroyed a labor camp near Keller owned by Richard F. Hall III.
It was one of more than 70 arsons reported in Accomack County between November 2012 and April 1, 2013. The blaze was an afterthought amid the more infamous arsons — including at the former Whispering Pines Motel, the old Hunger Haven and Leatherbury United Methodist Church — during the five-month string.
Commonwealth Attorney Gary Agar said he and Bundick’s attorneys, Allan and Alexander Zaleski, have not come to an agreement about bringing to trial any counts other than the one related to the March 3 fire. Tyler affirmed a defense motion to move the trial from Accomack County — the second time he has done so for Bundick.
She entered an Alford plea in a January trial held in Virginia Beach on two additional counts.
“I’m going to grant the motion to change the venue for the same reasons ... The main reason is not because of publicity ... The reasons have to do with the fact that there are so many counts that affect, directly or indirectly, so many people in the county,” Tyler said, putting the number affected in the thousands. That would make it hard to seat a jury, he said.
The fires in Accomack County stopped after Bundick and her fiance, Charles R. Smith III, were arrested April 2, 2013. Smith pleaded guilty in October to 68 charges related to 67 arsons. He has not yet been sentenced.
The March 3 labor camp fire was reported by an unknown caller at 9:35 p.m., according to a document filed in Smith’s case. The house, which had lain empty for more than three years, wasn’t insured. Hall estimated the loss at $30,000.
Special Agent Robert Barnes located numerous impressions “from what appeared to be two pairs of shoes” at the scene and tracking dogs handled by an FBI forensic canine operations specialist linked scent evidence from the scene to multiple tracks in the towns of Bloxom and Saxis, according the document from Smith’s case.
Smith in a confession made after his arrest said Bundick dropped him off at the labor camp.
He said he went in the front door and up to the attic, where he set a fire using cardboard boxes and flat soccer balls he found there.
Smith and Bundick remain incarcerated in two different Eastern Shore of Virginia jails.