Homeless Man Set Fires at Riverport, Police Say

South Bethlehem condominium residents were forced to evacuate after fire in shuttered Starters Pub sounded automatic alarm, police say.

The Riverport building, 11 W. Second St., Bethlehem. (Patch, Daryl Nerl)
The Riverport building, 11 W. Second St., Bethlehem. (Patch, Daryl Nerl)

Several residents of the Riverport Condominiums in South Bethlehem were evacuated early Saturday after a homeless man set two fires inside the building, police said.

The accused, Joey Matthew Burwell, 27, who formerly lived on Cherokee Street, admitted to police that he had been sleeping in the parking garage of the repurposed industrial complex at 11 W. Second St., according to an arrest affidavit.

A general fire alarm was sounded at the complex at about 4:45 a.m. Saturday, police said. The fire alarm panel indicated that the alarm came from the rear of the now-vacant Starters Riverport Pub, police said. Smoke was coming from the hallway.

One fire was set inside a bathroom inside the shuttered sports bar and restaurant, police said. The other was in a large black garbage bag that had been left in the garage and had to be removed to be extinguished, police said.

A firefighter on scene told police that he had just seen a man—Burwell—leave the building through the garage, according to the arrest affidavit. Police quickly found and detained Burwell, the affidavit said.

Burwell told police that he was trying to mask an odor that was coming from the bathroom by lighting paper towels and wood briquettes in a sink, the affidavit said.

The fire got “out of control” and caused the alarm to sound, Burwell told police, the affidavit said. Burwell said he got nervous and shoved the wood and paper into a garbage bag, then dropped the bag in the garage before he left.

Burwell was charged with two counts of arson and one count each of criminal trespass, defiant trespass and disorderly conduct.

He was arraigned before on-duty District Judge Joseph Barner of Lower Nazareth Township and committed to Northampton County Prison in lieu of $10,000 bail.


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