ONLEY, Va. (WAVY) - A longtime firefighter on the Eastern Shore is accused of stealing money from his own department.
After spending almost four decades with the Onley Volunteer Fire Department, 82-year-old James Morris faces a long list of charges. Most of his time with the department was spent as treasurer.
"I'm stunned," said Accomack County resident Lori Graham. "I've lived here for about 25 years and volunteer firefighters are the backbone of what people do around here."
The news of Morris' arrest spread faster than the flames he used to battle. He was arrested Oct. 9 after a year-long investigation by Virginia State Police.
A Virginia State Police special agent initiated the investigation in November 2012 after allegations were made against Morris for embezzlement in his position as treasurer of the Onley Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Station 18.
As a result of the investigation, an Accomack County grand jury returned nine counts of embezzlement against Morris. He is charged with embezzling funds intended for the operations of the fire station over a period of several years.
Morris' cousin told WAVY.com he is a charter member of the fire department, meaning he as been there since it was founded 1971.
"I couldn't believe it," said Onley ambulance driver Mike Patterson. "I don't think anybody could. It was a shock I think to everybody in Onley."
Investigators aren't saying how much money Morris is accused of taking. Residents say if it's true, they look forward to finding out why.
"Honestly, I can't hear that and not try to come with some rationale [as to] why he did it," Graham said. "Maybe it's the economy. I just can't hear that a man who did that for that long just had that in his heart from the start. I just can't believe it."
Morris is out of the Accomack County jail on bond. He will be in Accomack General District Court Oct. 23.
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