Nazareth Woman Charged with Arson at Borough Home, Church
Karla Dewey, 30, of Nazareth, is accused of sparking a 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.
Red-faced and sniffling back sobs, Karla Dewey politely answered District Judge John Capobianco’s questions with “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.”
Dewey’s only sign of insubordinate behavior was the shaking of her head -- as if in silent protest -- as Capobianco read the nine counts spread over two arson cases the 30-year-old Nazareth resident faces.
Dewey's husband, meanwhile, is a volunteer firefighter. And Karla Dewey is a person of interest in six other unsolved arsons / criminal mischief – suspicious fires in Nazareth, according to Police Chief Thomas Trachta.
Dewey, of 41 Belvidere St., 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, Cole. The blaze left Nazareth’s Center Square in a haze of smoke.
The other arson case, dating from 2009, involves St. John's United Church of Christ, where Dewey was scheduled to attend choir practice.
In the N. Green Street blaze, three of five townhomes were affected 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.
Dewey -- who is married to Rich Dewey, a volunteer firefighter with 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.
On May 1, however, Karla Dewey admitted to Cpl. Robert Whitbeck that she started the fire.
The affected properties are owned by Orwig Property Management. The estimated loss is $80,000.
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.
According to a criminal complaint filed by Trachta, a surveillance camera shows Dewey enter a first-floor vacant office on Oct. 14, 2009.
Dewey was scheduled to attend choir practice on the third floor of the church.
In the video, Dewey is seen turning on the office light, stepping out of the camera’s view for about 30 seconds, then leaving the office soon after, the complaint states.
Susan Frickert, the church’s director of music, was heading to her office -- located down the hall from the vacant office Dewey entered -- when she smelled something burning.
Frickert, according to the complaint, and other church choir members “discovered a burnt, charred poster board inside the Director of Education Ministries office.”
The fire extinguished itself before the wall ignited, according to the complaint.
Dewey was charged with arson endangering property and risking a catastrophe -- both felonies. She was also charged with criminal mischief.
Capobianco said Dewey is not permitted to enter St. John’s UCC.
Before he set bail, Capobianco asked Dewey if there was anything she wanted to say or wanted him to think about.
“I do have a 3-year-old son,” Dewey said, again choking back sobs. “He’s my life. He’s my main concern… Cole is my everything.”
Dewey, a Nazareth Area High School graduate, said she is unemployed and recently went on disability for reasons relating to mental health.
In total, Capobianco set bail at $65,000. Before being committed to Northampton County Prison, the judge told Dewey that 10 percent options would not be permitted unless pre-trial services gave the OK.