Camas Hotel manager charged with first-degree arson

Police: Kim set fire to historic hotel for insurance payout

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The manager of the Camas Hotel, Won Dongandres Lee Kim, also known as "Brendan Lee," checks a computer in the historic hotel's lobby in August 2019. Kim is facing first-degree arson charges this week after allegedly setting fire to an unoccupied hotel room in a bid to collect insurance money. (Post-Record file photos)

A man who claimed to be the owner of the historic Camas Hotel in downtown Camas is facing first-degree arson charges this week after allegedly setting fire to an unoccupied room in a bid to collect insurance money.

Camas Police investigators say 30-year-old Won Dongandres Lee Kim, also known as “Brendan Lee,” the hotel’s manager, admitted to purposely setting fire to an unoccupied room in historic hotel on the morning of June 17.

“(Kim) told me he is a gambling addict and had recently lost ($15,000) of his parents’ money gambling,” Camas police officer Scot Boyles stated in a probable-cause document. “He thought the insurance (money) would be a quick way to replace his parents’ money before they found out.”

A hotel guest reported the fire to 911 the morning of June 17, and said a smoke alarm was going off in a guest room on the 109-year-old historic downtown Camas hotel’s third floor. The guest also reported smelling smoke. Police say the guest controlled the small fire with a fire extinguisher and that damage was minimal and contained to the unoccupied room.

A total of 15 guests and one employee were inside the hotel when Kim allegedly started the fire. Boyles noted in his report that the hotel has no fire sprinkler system.

Upon inspection, Camas-Washougal Fire Department officials reported evidence of the fire being intentionally set and turned the case over to the Camas Police Department for investigation.

Boyles stated in court documents that two hotel employees told him on June 17 that they had seen surveillance video showing Kim enter the unoccupied room — Room 28 — just before the fire started.

“(Kim) later told them to lie about the video to the police if they were asked about it,” Boyles stated in the court documents. “I was later able to see the surveillance footage and saw (Kim) enter the room minutes before the fire alarm went off. No one else entered the room prior to the fire alarm.”

Kim identified himself in the summer of 2019 to other Camas business owners and media as a man named Brendan Lee. He said he had purchased the hotel, located at 405 N.E. Fourth Ave., in the heart of historic downtown Camas, from former owners Terri and Dave Sauer.

The hotel boasts 24 rooms, a manager’s apartment and two retail spaces currently leased to Tommy O’s restaurant and Allure Boutique.

County records show the property sold for $2.98 million in August 2019 to KJL Enterprise, a Vancouver company registered to Keum Lee and Eui Lee Kim, of Tacoma.

Kim has been charged with arson in the first degree. Clark County Superior Court Judge Jennifer Snider released Kim on $50,000 bail on June 18, with the conditions that he avoid gambling and stay away from the Camas Hotel.

Kim is set to appear in Clark County Superior Court again at 9 a.m., Thursday, July 2.