Arson Suspect Feared Husband's Reaction to Fire, Trooper Testifies
Karla Dewey, 30, of Nazareth, is accused of sparking the blaze that destroyed the end unit of a row of townhouses at 40 N. Green St.; she is also accused of lighting poster board on fire at St. John's UCC.
Cigar ashes -- carelessly tapped onto the arm of a loveseat -- ignited a N. Green Street blaze that destroyed the end unit of a row of townhouses and displaced five families.
And the woman charged in the fire sobbed loudly at a court hearing last week as a state police trooper testified that she initially lied about what happened because she feared her husband's reaction.
After the two-hour hearing Nov. 19, District Judge John Capobianco sent nine charges against 30-year-old Karla Dewey to Northampton County Court. She remains in Northampton County Prison in lieu of $65,000 bail.
Dewey, of the unit block of Belvidere Street, is accused of starting a fire on March 13 that destroyed the end unit of a row of townhouses at 40 N. Green St. -- where she lived with her husband and their 3-year-old son.
Another arson case, dating from 2009, involves St. John's United Church of Christ, where Dewey was scheduled to attend choir practice.
She is also a person of interest in six other unsolved arsons / criminal mischief – suspicious fires in Nazareth, according to Police Chief Thomas Trachta.
The N. Green Street blaze affected three of five townhomes, and the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley was called to assist five families (six adults and three children).
According to a criminal complaint filed by Trooper Michael Booke, the fire marshal with state police Troop M in Bethlehem, “the fire originated upon the couch located along the north wall of the living room.”
The fire was started by an open flame source, such as a cigarette lighter, the complaint states.
During his testimony, Booke said that determination was made by assessing burn patterns, noting areas that sustained the most damage, ruling out an accidental ignition source, and utilizing a K-9 trained to detect accelerants.
Booke said the K-9 “expressed interest” in an area near the couch along the home’s north wall. Samples were then collected and submitted for forensic analysis.
Dewey -- who is married to Rich Dewey, a volunteer firefighter with the Upper Nazareth Fire Department-- told police she and her 3-year-old son had been napping in an upstairs bedroom for about 15 minutes when smoke alarms sounded.
Mother and son escaped through a patio door at the rear of the home, according to the complaint. Rich Dewey was at work.
Karla Dewey stuck to her story, which was first provided in a written statement on March 13, and again during a voluntary, subsequent interview with Booke on April 11.
On May 1, however, she admitted to Cpl. Robert Whitbeck, a certified polygraph examiner with state police, that she started the fire.
After spending the day with her mother at various locations in Nazareth, Whitbeck testified, Karla Dewey said she placed her son in his bedroom to play.
Feeling stressed, Whitbeck added, Karla Dewey lit and smoked a cigar in an attempt to relax. While in the living room, according to Whitbeck, Dewey tapped off the cigar’s ashes, some of which landed on the arm of a loveseat.
Dewey then took her cigar outside, took a few more puffs and extinguished the cigar by rubbing it on the porch’s concrete floor. When she was finished, Dewey went back inside and upstairs to nap with her son.
The affected properties are owned by Orwig Property Management. The estimated loss is $80,000.
Dewey initially lied, Whitbeck said, because she feared her husband’s reaction.
“She was worried about people being mad at her, specifically her busband,” Whitbeck said. “She expressed concern for her safety.”
Karla Dewey became visibly upset -- loudly sobbing -- during this portion of Whitbeck’s testimony.
Dewey was charged with two counts of arson and related offenses, causing or risking a catastrophe and criminal mischief -- all felonies. She also faces misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child and unsworn falsification to authorities.
After the N. Green Street fire, according to Trachta, the senior pastor from St. John’s UCC provided video of Dewey allegedly lighting poster board on fire inside a church office. The incident occurred Oct. 14, 2009.
The fire extinguished itself before the wall ignited, according to a police criminal complaint.
Dewey was charged with arson endangering property and risking a catastrophe -- both felonies. She was also charged with criminal mischief.