Woman, ousted firefighter charged with setting Lehigh Twp. barn fires
Fire damaged a barn on Cherryville Road in Allen Township early Friday. SCOTT M. NAGY PHOTO
A Northampton woman and a former junior firefighter have been charged with setting multiple barn fires in the Lehigh Valley.
Pennsylvania State Police in Bethlehem said Samantha Keeney, 24, was charged Thursday in connection with the barn fires at 3646 Cedar Drive and 786 Fir Drive in Lehigh Township, and 4413 Cherryville Road, Allen Township.
Keeney has been charged with causing or risking catastrophe; arson and related offenses; agricultural vandalism; criminal mischief; criminal trespass; and recklessly endangering another person.
Justin Emmons, 19, of Northampton faces the same charges as Keeney.
According to the affidavit of probable cause filed by trooper James Welsh:
On March 15, Lehigh Township Fire Chief Richard Hildebrand called the fire marshal for a blaze that broke out at 1:26 a.m. at 3646 Cedar Drive in Lehigh Township.
Patrolman Craig Ball of the Lehigh Township Police Department interviewed Emmons, who said that he and his friend, Keeney, were heading to the home of a friend of theirs, and that they were traveling on Route 946 and saw flames.
Emmons said he turned on his scanner and heard there was a fire on Cedar Drive and they drove to it.
On March 23, another fire was reported at 786 Fir Drive in Lehigh Township.
Video surveillance from a neighbor shows a vehicle traveling back and forth 13 times on Fir Drive before and after the fire was burning.
The victim’s son told police he left the residence and discovered the fire. He also saw a dark-colored SUV near the top of the driveway.
On March 24, Welsh was notified about another fire at 1352 Clearview Road, North Whitehall Township, another large barn near the roadside.
A freelance photographer there reported he passed a younger man and the two began talking.
During the conversation, the man mentioned that he had been at the other two fires in Lehigh Township.
The photographer thought the circumstances were odd and took a picture of the man.
On March 29, Welsh was contacted about another fire at 4413 Cherryville Road, Allen Township, another large barn near the roadside.
This particular fire was caught in the early stages by a passer-by who reported to 911 and also extinguished by another passer-by.
As a result of the early extinguishing, Welsh was able to collect several samples for testing from this scene.
It was discovered that Emmons used to work/live with a person on Cedar Drive, but that the resident does not own a barn.
As a result the resident stores the crop and equipment at other barns, including 3646 Cedar Drive and 786 Fir Drive, the scene of the two fires in Lehigh Township.
Emmons was let go from the property about one week ago, and was also fired from the Northampton Borough Fire Department about one year ago, but still frequented the fire department.
Emmons does not possess a valid driver’s license and typically drives or rides with Keeney.
Emmons and Keeney are both known to utilize a black Hyundai Santa Fe, similar to the vehicle seen by the victim’s son of the fire at 786 Fir Drive.
In collection video surveillance from nearby residents from this scene, an SUV can be seen traveling up and down Fir Drive before and after the fire.
A body camera from the Cedar Drive scene showed the clothes Emmons was wearing on March 15 was similar to the clothing depicted from the individual photographed on March 24 at the fire Cherryville Road.
On March 27, Welsh contacted Emmons by phone and requested he come to the Bethlehem barracks for an interview.
Emmons agreed, but did not show up for the interview. Keeney failed to show up for work at the Lehigh Valley International Airport, on March 28 and March 29.
Contact was made with Airport Security and pictures of Keeney’s vehicle were obtained, and the vehicle matches the description from 786 Fir Drive and on the surveillance footage.
On March 29, Lehigh Township Police Detective Matthew Enstrom received information from Lehigh Township Police Chief Scott Fogel and township manager Alice Rehrig of an extinguished fire on Quince Road by Timberline Road in the township.
Evidence at the scene of the brush fire, including several survival type matches at the scene which were later identified as the same “storm proof” matches used by Emmons and Keeney to light fires.
On Monday, Emmons said both he and Keeney were involved in the fires at 786 Fir Drive and 1352 Clearview Road, as well as a vehicle fire currently being investigated by the Northampton Borough Police Department.
Emmons said although he was with Keeney at the time of the fires, Keeney was the one responsible for the act of actually lighting the fires.
Keeney told police that she and Emmons “collectively” had the ideas to burn down the barns.
Keeney said that she was responsible for lighting the fire at 786 Fir Drive.
She said that no accelerants were used to ignite the fires, but that they used “storm proof” matches which were purchased at Walmart in Whitehall.
Police searched her vehicle and located a “storm proof” match in the driver’s side door panel
Located in the glovebox was an opened box of “storm proof” matches.
Police also located a pair of “Schmidt” camouflage coveralls in the vehicle, the same ones worn by Emmons depicted by the photograph.
Keeney is currently incarcerated in Northampton County Prison in lieu of $250,000 bail, and is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing April 17 before District Judge Robert A. Hawke of Walnutport.