Northwestern Press

Sunday, November 17, 2019
Justin Emmons Justin Emmons
Samantha Rose Keeney Samantha Rose Keeney

Two charged with setting barn fires

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by Terry Ahner tahner@tnonline.com in Local News

A Northampton woman and a former junior firefighter have been charged with setting multiple barn fires in Northampton County.

Pennsylvania State Police Troop M, Bethlehem, say Samantha Rose Keeney, 24, was charged April 4 in connection with the fires.

The first fire was at 3646 Cedar Drive; the second at 786 Fir Drive, both in Lehigh Township, and on March 29 there was another at 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.

He was arrested at 6:45 p.m. April 5 after a traffic stop by a Penn-ridge Regional Police Department officer.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed by State Police Fire Marshal 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 the Cedar Drive address.

Patrolman Craig Ball of the Lehigh Township Police Department interviewed Emmons, who said he and his friend, Keeney, were heading to the home of a friend 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 the Fir Drive address.

Video surveillance from a neighbor shows a vehicle traveling back and forth 13 times along Fir Drive before and after the fire was burning.

The son of the barn owner 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 he had been at the other two fires in Lehigh Township.

The photographer thought the circumstances were odd and took a photo of the man.

Neither Emmons nor Keeney were charged in connection with this fire.

On March 29, Welsh was contacted about another fire, this time at a barn along Cherryville Road, Allen Township.

This particular fire was caught in the early stages by a passerby who called 911 and which was extinguished by another passer-by.

As a result of the early extinguishing, Welsh was able to collect several samples for testing from this scene.

Emmons used to work or live with a person who lived along Cedar Drive but that person does not own a barn.

As a result, that person stores his 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 have a valid driver’s license and usually drives or rides with Keeney.

Emmons and Keeney are both known to use a black Hyundai Santa Fe, similar to the vehicle seen by the victim’s son of the fire at 786 Fir Drive.

In 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 clothing Emmons was wearing on March 15 was similar to the clothing depicted on the individual photographed on March 24 at the Cherryville Road fire.

On March 27, Welsh contacted Emmons by phone and requested he come to the state police Troop M barracks in Bethlehem for an interview.

Emmons agreed, but did not show up. Keeney failed to show up for work at the Lehigh Valley International Airport, on March 28 and 29.

Contact was made with airport security and photos of Keeney’s vehicle were obtained, and the vehicle matches the description from 786 Fir Drive and on 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 allegedly told police she and Emmons collectively had the idea to burn down the barns, and that she was responsible for lighting the fire at 786 Fir Drive.

She said no accelerants were used to ignite the fires but that they used “stormproof” matches purchased at Walmart in Whitehall.

Police searched her vehicle and located a “stormproof” match in the driver’s side door panel.

In the glove box 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 in the photograph.

Keeney is incarcerated in Northampton County Prison in lieu of $250,000 bail.

She is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing April 17 before District Judge Robert A. Hawke of Walnutport.