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 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 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 , 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 -- 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 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.

Ben Miller September 11, 2012 at 04:02 AM
"On May 1, however, Karla Dewey admitted to Cpl. Robert Whitbeck that she started the fire." - This part right here upsets me the most, because Rich Dewey contacted me about picking up the last donation for their family on June 4th. I dropped it off for them at the Upper Nazareth Fire Department a week later. I'm disappointed and angry, not for myself, but for all the people in the Nazareth community.... -I'm angry for the first responders- firefighters, ems, police who rushed to the scene at their own risk and stayed there all day, battling the gasoline-fueled flames. -I'm angry for that little boy who was in the house when the fire was set. -I'm angry for the neighbor who was home sleeping when the fire was set. -I'm angry for their neighbors who lost belongings and nearly lost their houses. -I'm angry for all the generous people in Nazareth who donated to the family, thinking they faced an unfortunate accident and wanting to help. -I'm angry for the next local family who loses their house to fire and will face a lower amount of donations along with skeptical looks, because of what happened here. When the next local family faces a personal tragedy like this, I will not hesitate to help, just like I did with the Dewey's and the Weisenbergers. While this is embarrassing for me, we all acted in good faith, trying to help a member of our community. I will not let Karla Dewey or anyone else prevent me from doing that again in the future.
Jaime September 11, 2012 at 10:49 AM
You should always be leery the next time you hear a call from a total stranger to donate. This is just common sense. If people were so gullible, people like Ms. Dewey wouldn't prey on them.
Ben Miller September 11, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Jaime, You obviously have no idea of the situation. She didn't contact me, I CONTACTED THE FAMILY. You also seem oblivious to the fact that a little boy lost all his clothes, personal belongings and all his toys. Is it his fault? Did he deserve that? How about her husband who was at work when the fire was started. He received a call that there was a fire at his house and his son was in there. He raced home, not sure if his son was alive. Did he deserve that? You call it "common sense" and I call it a callous disregard for your fellow citizen. It's that same mentality that people employ when they see a family on the side of the road with a popped tire and keep on driving. You either didn't grow up in Nazareth or if you did, you failed to absorb the community spirit that permeates the town. I hope I never become as cynical and self-centered as you. Ben Miller
Jaime September 11, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Mr. Miller, sorry for your loss but what is the saying? "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread"? Contribute to the Red Cross or Community Chest next time. This lady has been under surveillance by the police and fire department for some time. Apparently there were some concerned citizens of Nazareth who had her number. I think you should be asking yourself why you felt the need to play savior.
Ben Miller September 11, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Oh... the Red Cross, huh? Where 20 to 30% of all donations to the Red Cross goes to "Administrative costs and other expenses." Jaime, you don't know anything about me if you believe that I "felt the need to play savior." You also don't know the true facts and you're relying on rumors as your source. I spoke with the police before we solicited donations and again, after someone brought up a rumor about her. They told me that while they couldn't discuss their investigation of the fire, they had no reason to suspect her at that time and the rumors about her being suspected in previous fires were unfounded. She was not under any kind of surveillance as your sources have told you. In fact, she was one of the main witnesses who's testimony put a 14 year old boy in prison after her last house burned down. Honestly, you're embarrassing yourself here by talking out of your rear end and claiming as fact, false rumors you've heard from uninformed sources. You're also acting as a shining example of what is slowly ruining our country and beginning to poison our community- the attitude of me first, let somebody else help those in need. You think throwing money at large, faceless organizations frees you up from the inherent responsibility you have to be a good person and help those around you who need it. (I'd also look up the origin of that quote you used, if I were you. It was written by Alexander Pope in his poem 'An Essay on Criticism.' Read it.)
Robert Stocklas September 11, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Jaime I hope to god I never become as cynical as you. What makes this community great is people willing to help eachother out when needed. People like Mr Miller are the glue that keeps communities alive. You say fools rush in, well people didn't know she was a person of interest in other arsons all thy knew was a family needed help. I just hope that if you are ever in a situation where you need help your neighbors won't be as cynical as you and help you out.
Ben Miller September 11, 2012 at 04:45 PM
One last thing.... You want to know why I do what I do? Read this story about another Nazareth family who lost their home to fire. I didn't know them either, but I learned that they are wonderful people who had given a great deal back the community prior to the fire. If you let the Karla Dewey's of the world prevent you from helping those in need, then you give them a power over you and allow their actions to poison your heart. http://nazareth.patch.com/articles/over-2000-raised-for-nazareth-fire-victims
Johnny Ole September 11, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Possibly Munchhausen by proxy? This woman was collecting disability for mental problems, yet she was deemed fit to be alone with a small child... My heart goes out to her husband and son.
Chuck Arthur September 13, 2012 at 09:03 PM
The victim was me'!!!! I lost everything and so did my kids I pray for her soul!
Ben Miller September 13, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Chuck Arthur September 13, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Mr Miller I was the victim I lost everything didn't ask for a dime but next time u should check out the people u give donations too! I just want justice and when I think that my 3 small children could have been home it just gets more mad about people who donate to a crazy person involved in lots of fires!!!!
Ben Miller September 13, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Chuck, I'm not sure what you mean about losing everything and I don't know who you are, but I did check out the people I gave the donations too before I collected them. I spoke with police and officials from the fire department about the damages to other unit. I was told the only unit that was lost was the Dewey's and that while the police couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation into the fire, they had no reason to suspect Karla Dewey had anything to do with it. Like I said, I have no idea who you are or how you were the victim of this fire and lost everything when the fire department told me that only unit hit was the Dewey's. They said two other units sustained mild water and smoke damage, but nothing else. Don't direct your anger at me, I've done nothing wrong here, other than to try and help a member of the Nazareth community. I did my due diligence and spoke with both police and fire officials. Please also remember that Rich and Cole Dewey were the real victims here and they absolutely did lose everything. Rich was at work and Cole was sleeping in the house when the fire started.
Ben Miller September 13, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Comments like yours and Jaime's make me question more and more if there will be a "next time" for me. I try to help people and get treated like a criminal.
Chuck Arthur September 13, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Again I lost everything by smoke and water damage and displaced with 3 small children trust me u got your facts wrong ! How many fires was she Involved with? Bad luck I think not! I was always the perfect neighbor and to see donations being given to a crazy lady just makes me sick!
Chuck Arthur September 13, 2012 at 11:34 PM
It's always good to help people in need but this lady had issues and her husband Just played along that poor child!!!
Ben Miller September 13, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Chuck, I'm very sorry for your loss, but your statements to the media after the fire seem to be at odds with what you are saying here and you haven't spoken up about this until today. "Arthur lives in the home by himself but his two children stay there on the weekends. He said he would move in with his girlfriend for the time being." Regardless, I would have absolutely helped you if I knew you needed it. I was told the only ones who lost everything were the Dewey family by people from both the police and fire department. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/nazareth/index.ssf/2012/03/nazareth_house_severely_damage.html With regard to Karla, I can appreciate how frustrated you must feel, but there was a husband and little boy involved as well and they had nothing to do with the fire. Please also remember that at the time of the fire, there was no evidence she was involved and both the media and I were told that it was premature to even call it an arson. Surely you can't expect anyone to take rumors and unproven inuendo over the word of fire and police officials. At the end of the day, I did what I thought was right, tried to help and I am not going to apologize for it anymore. I'm glad we collected donations for Rich and Cole Dewey, they did nothing wrong and lost everything.
Karl Bader April 06, 2013 at 03:32 AM
First off, I wanted to comment in Ben's defense. Mind you I've never met Ben, but God Bless you for standing up for your beliefs... You helped people in need, and that's commendable... Personally I can't say if Karla did it or not. I don't have evidence, I have several reported articles with varying details, plus I'm pretty sure we live in a country where we are innocent until proven guilty... I can't tell you with 100% certainty that she did this, so why ruin a reputation? The case is apparently going to trial and there everything will be presented... Heck after reading 2 articles on this I got / completely different views on who Ben is! Stop speculating!


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