A West Sacramento man took his own life and the lives of his daughters on New Year's Eve by locking them in his car and setting it on fire, the Yolo County Coroner's office has reported.
The girls, Sophia and Sara Rouin, died of asphyxiation due to the inhalation of products related to the combustion of seat covers, according to Chief Deputy Coroner Gina Moya.
"The other significant cause is thermal burns," she said. "It's very sad."
Sophia and Sara, ages 12 and 9, were discovered in the car with their father, Hamdy Rouin, in front of a Subway restaurant in West Sacramento. Their mother, Amy Hunter, planned to pick them up there. Hunter and Rouin were divorced, and Hunter had been involved in a long legal battle to free herself and her daughters from what she described as an abusive relationship with her ex-husband.
Yolo County Sheriff and Coroner Ed Prieto said the girls' deaths have been ruled a homicide. According to the report, an empty Arizona Green Tea container smelling of gasoline was found near Rouin's silver Hyundai Accent and a lighter was found in the car.
"A strong smell of gasoline was emanating from the vehicle, and could be detected from several feet away," the report said.
Rouin, 46, was already dead by the time paramedics arrived. The girls later were pronounced dead at UC Davis Medical Center.
The report indicated the front seats were set on fire. Vomit was found on both girls' pants and the back seat where they were sitting. "Clumps of singed hair were noted hanging from the roof of the vehicle above the front and rear passenger seats," the report said.
Sophia had burns on 38 percent of her body, including her arms, legs and face, the report said. Sara suffered second-degree burns on her face and extremities. Several stuffed animals and a cloth doll were found on the floor of the back seat, the report said.
Their deaths came less than two days before Rouin was scheduled to appear in a Yolo County court for repeatedly violating a restraining order forbidding him to come with 100 yards of Hunter or contact her, except to communicate about picking up and dropping off their daughters. Rouin, who had unsupervised visits with the girls, was scheduled to be arraigned on 546 misdemeanor counts of violating the order.
In an interview last month with The Bee, Hunter described Rouin as an alcoholic and a ticking time bomb. She said there was a “disconnect” between Yolo County’s family law court, which kept renewing restraining orders against him, and the criminal justice system, which was responsible for enforcing those orders.
Hunter and Rouin first got together in 1999 divorced in 2016. They had separated several times. Over the years, Rouin had threatened to “cripple” Hunter, kill her relatives, their daughters and himself, court documents said. During one altercation, he knocked her glasses off her face, hit her on the chin and urinated on her house. She first filed for a domestic violence restraining order in 2012.
Although Rouin’s text messages contained no direct threats that elevated them to felonies, "he frequently said he would kill the girls and himself, and leave me alone with my guilt,” Hunter said. “I think this was his revenge, punishing me for defying him by leaving him."
In recent weeks, Hunter has been working with Kathleen Russell, executive director of the Marin-based Center for Judicial Excellence, which advocates for abused children and domestic violence survivors.
"I wish the criminal courts and family courts would do more to protect children," Russell said. "When there is a clear record of dozens of phone calls violating the restraining order, he should have been put in jail."
Authorities have said that if Rouin had been convicted on the misdemeanor charges, he would have faced two weeks to two months in county jail.
"I have been a cop for 50 years, and it's really hard to determine what could have been done, or how you can predict that anyone would do this," Prieto said.
The West Sacramento case bears similarities to a recent one in South Pasadena. Aramazd Andressian Sr. admitted to taking his 5-year-old son to Disneyland in April and then killing him to get back at his estranged wife. The boy's body later was found on a Santa Barbara hillside.