UPDATE: STATter911 has now confirmed a third arrest of Nolan Cornell for stealing a fire engine from a dealership in Virginia since last December. This one was on August 14 in Burkeville, Virginia (Nottaway County). The rig was a 1997 E-One (pictured below). A hearing in the case is schedule for December. More details in the coming days. Thanks to long-time reader (and friend) Taylor Goodman for the tip.
When Craig Williams first heard about a Fairfax County, Virginia fire engine stolen from a fire truck dealer’s lot last Monday he immediately had a suspect in mind. Williams told his wife about his hunch that Nolan Cornell was the person behind the theft. Within a few hours, that suspicion was verified when police in Luray announced they had Cornell, 24, in custody. Williams isn’t psychic. He’s just one of Cornell’s victims.
Craig Williams has run Williams Emergency Vehicle Services in Staunton, Virginia since 2008. Around 4:30 am last December 12 Williams was awakened by a call from Staunton police. The officer said one of his fire engines was found parked between Walmart and Lowes. Williams told police, “If it’s my fire engine, that means it was stolen.”
It didn’t take long to find security camera video showing the thief and an accomplice arriving in a silver Dodge Challenger. After cutting locks and moving other vehicles out of the way, they drove off with a 2001 Pierce Dash engine that was previously owned by the Alexandria Fire Department. And just as it did last week, the name Nolan Cornell quickly surfaced following the December theft.
Jim Williams, Craig’s dad, reminded his son of the two visits over the previous year or so of a young man determined to buy a fire engine. The man, along with some friends, told a story about owning a fire academy in Virginia. He needed an engine for training. But Williams felt something didn’t add up and also had no interest in the potential customer’s insistence that Williams finance the purchase. Williams also turned down the man’s request to test drive some of the rigs, including the former Alexandria engine. Following up on his dad’s reminder, Craig Williams pulled up an online sales lead the man had filled out. The name on the form was “Nolan Cornell”.
Williams quickly found Cornell’s Facebook page. The profile picture told him his father’s instincts were good. It was a picture of Cornell’s silver Dodge Challenger. Police took it from there. Cornell pleaded guilty in the case in June. Cornell has partially paid restitution to Williams for some relatively minor damage to the fire engine. Cornell was sentenced to two years’ probation. That means Cornell was on probation for one fire engine theft when he was arrested for a second.
Williams has another guilty plea this year. That one was for impersonating a public safety official in Spotsylvania County in January. Cornell was also charged this year with grand theft auto and destruction of property in Orange County. That case is scheduled for trial next year. There’s also a grand larceny charge in Nottoway County. Details of these charges are not online.
As STATter911 firs reported last week, Cornell had two brief stints at volunteer fire companies in Orange County and Spotsylvania County in 2016 and 2017. Each ended with his termination just months after they began.
In July and August of 2017, when he was just 20 years old, Cornell used his Facebook page to promote and raise money for an organization called the “Forest Volunteer Fire Academy”. He referred to himself as the “chief” of that academy. Other than Cornell’s Facebook page, STATter911 has found no online presence for the academy. Like Williams, other firefighters in Virginia heard Cornell talk about the academy but saw no evidence that Cornell was actually training people to be firefighters. In one post Cornell wrote, “to request a ride along on the old engine or if you’re interested in joining contact chief Cornell … “. With that post was a video showing a fire engine he called “forest fire academy old engine 6”.
Another episode that raised fire service suspicions was a visit Cornell paid to Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue in 2019. Two years earlier Chancellor had terminated Cornell’s membership. Former Chancellor president Steve Dove says Cornell stopped by to make on offer on a 2008 Ford Expedition the department was selling. It was an emergency response vehicle known as “Safety 5”. Dove told STATter911 that Cornell was eager to buy the vehicle but insisted that the emergency markings remain on the SUV. Dove not only refused to sell the vehicle to Cornell, he also alerted law enforcement about his meeting. Cornell’s arrest for impersonating a public safety official in Spotsylvania County came just 18 months later.
Until now, Craig Williams didn’t see a need to publicize the stealing of a fire engine from his business. With the pattern that’s developed involving Cornell, Williams changed his mind. Williams, a long-time member of the Churchville Volunteer Fire Department, is hoping the entire fire service in the region — and especially fire apparatus dealers and repair shops — know who Nolan Cornell is and his criminal fascination with fire apparatus.