Wilmington man charged in Dewey Beach restaurant fire

June 17, 2021

A Wilmington man faces arson charges in connection with a 2020 fire that burned down The Lighthouse restaurant in Dewey Beach.

Robert Benjamin Lodeski, 44, who is incarcerated in Maryland on arson-related crimes, now faces second-degree arson and trespassing charges for The Lighthouse restaurant fire and a fire at Aqua Leisure near Rehoboth two months later.

After an investigation into the April 2020 fire at the Dickinson Avenue property that caused $750,000 in damage, investigators with the Delaware Office of the State Fire Marshal determined the fire was intentionally set. On June 3, a second fire caused $200,000 in damage at the Aqua Leisure property on Wolfe Neck Road. Investigators determined that fire was also intentionally set, said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal John Galaska.

With assistance and coordination from the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Delaware State Police, and Dewey Beach Police, Galaska said investigators were able to connect Lodeski to the fires. Warrants for his arrest were issued June 17.

On May 27, the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal announced that Lodeski was initially charged on June 23, 2020, with two counts of second-degree arson, two counts of second-degree malicious burning and two counts of malicious destruction of property over $1,000. He was later charged with additional counts of second-degree arson, first-degree malicious burning and malicious destruction of property over $1,000. The first arson occurred June 15, 2020, at a Shell gas station in Bel Air, Md., and the second occurred June 20, 2020, at two buildings housing eight different businesses in Bel Air, the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal stated. The fires caused over $1 million in damages, officials said.

Lodeski was also connected to other crimes, including arson in Baltimore County and burglary in Ocean City, officials said. He admitted his guilt in Harford County Circuit Court on May 26, where a judge sentenced him to 60 years, suspending all but 10 years, Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal stated.

Galaska said warrants for Lodeski’s arrest will be sent to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office for coordination with Maryland officials to indict him in Delaware. At this time, Galaska said he could not release further details on how Lodeski was connected to the arsons in Rehoboth and Dewey.

Thomas J. Hanna, president of Harvey Hanna & Associates, the company overseeing the redevelopment of the Lighthouse Cove Resort, said he was relieved the person had been brought to justice for the senseless act.

“We would like to thank the Delaware Fire Marshal’s and Attorney General’s offices for continuing to pursue every lead during a 14-month long investigation,” Hanna said. “We would also like to thank the Delaware State Police; Dewey Beach Police Department; the Delaware Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms; and the State of Maryland for their on-going support during the investigation. The community support during this painful time has been overwhelming. Deputy Dale Magee of the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the private team at O’Rourke Investigative both deserve a lot of credit for immediately hitting the street within hours of the arson having occurred.”   

E. Thomas Harvey III, President of Lighthouse Cove Development Company, said the arson at the Lighthouse Restaurant wasn’t just a betrayal of Harvey Hanna & Associates and employees of Lighthouse Cove Resort. 

“his act of arson was a despicable betrayal of the entire Dewey Beach and greater Sussex County communities,” Harvey said. “Today, our community is safer because of this arrest.”

In recognition of the 14 months of hard work throughout the entirety of the investigation on behalf of various law enforcement agencies, Harvey, Hanna & Associates and the Lighthouse Cove Development company will donate $15,000 to Camp Barnes, specifically to the annual Delaware Burn Camp in lieu of the reward previously announced, officials said.

Camp Barnes, launched by the Delaware State Police in 1948, offers a free camp for Delaware youth, allowing campers to develop initiative and leadership skills necessary to accomplish tasks. The Delaware Burn Camp was established to provide a safe and natural environment for the promotion of physical and emotional healing to young Delaware children who have been previously injured by fire.

“As many are aware, we immediately posted what we felt was a generous reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist in this act,” Hanna said. “Representatives from law enforcement were able to investigate and arrest the alleged perpetrator without the necessity of the reward. Therefore, our team felt compelled to contribute much of the allocated reward money to Camp Barnes, a powerful community effort established by the Delaware State Police many decades ago, which serves underprivileged children in Delaware and those kids that have been disabled or harmed by fire.” 

The Lighthouse Restaurant was being remodeled at the time of the fire, with the expectation that it would be reopened in the Summer of 2020. The arson occurred weeks before the restaurant was scheduled to reopen, thereby displacing almost 40 workers that had been hired or had been scheduled to be hired. The Lighthouse Restaurant has since been under construction for a second time in two years and is now scheduled to reopen in mid-July.

Anyone with information on either of these fires is asked to call the Sussex Division of the Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office at 302-856-5600.

Note: this article has been updated with new information

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