woman faces murder arrest charges in California
ERIC CHAMBERS, STAFF WRITE
A nine-year-old California murder case was recently
solved with the arrest of a local Brunswick woman who worked at The Thai
Place, a restaurant located on Pleasant Street.
Forty-seven-year-old Sawan Navarat was arrested in connection
with the murder of 40-year-old Opapin Ponvisutrakul in Flagstaff, Arizona,
on January 21 after having fled from Brunswick.
According to California authorities, Navarat shot Ponvisutrakul
four times in the head after a heated argument in Los Angeles in 1991
in which Navarat accused Ponvisutrakul of being her husband's mistress.
Hours after Navarat's arrest in Flagstaff, 42-year-old
Warin Toemphanthunan was arrested by Brunswick police and charged with
aiding Navarat's escape. If convicted, she could be sentenced to five
years in prison, as well as a $250,000 fine.
Although the murder occurred in 1991, Los Angeles authorities
were unable to find Navarat. The file remained open for nine years until
an unknown source contacted Detective Michael Crowley of the Bureau of
Homicide of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.
This information led authorities to Portland where,
on December 12, police infiltrated a Thai restaurant in the city and arrested
a woman who resembled Navarat. However, she was soon released after her
fingerprint patterns did not match those of Navarat.
By another anonymous tip, authorities then went to The
Thai Place, on 136 Pleasant Street, to question Navarat. However, she
had fled by the time they had arrived.
While police questioned patrons in the restaurant about
Navarat, Toemphanthunan arrived. She claimed not to know who Navarat was,
but authorities soon found out that they had been roommates for years.
During her interrogation, Toemphanthunan revealed that she had helped
Navarat escape Brunswick just minutes before.
Navarat then hitchhiked to Flagstaff, Arizona, where
she took a job as a waitress in a Thai restaurant before authorities finally
caught up with her. Local merchants were stunned by this development.
In her five years in Brunswick, she had gained a reputation as a dependable,
but somewhat withdrawn, person.
In an interview with Times-Record writer Christopher
Cousins on December 15, 2000, Tom Bouthot, owner of Uncle Tom's Market,
expressed his shock at Navarat's arrest: "I never would have dreamed she
was capable of something like thatů[she was] sweet and soft-spoken."
Both Portland and California police considered her armed
and dangerous. Navarat will be tried in California for her crimes. If
convicted, she could face life imprisonment.
Information gathered from
The Times-Record and the Portland Press Herald.