Police Thursday were seeking an arrest warrant for a Kandal province construction worker who they say doused a Chong Koh village chieftain and his wife with gasoline before lighting the couple on fire, seriously injuring both and slightly injuring their adult daughter.
The incident occurred early Sunday when the drunken 35-year-old construction worker attacked Touch Suon, 61, and his wife Muong Vann, 62, after Touch Suon refused to help the construction worker with a divorce, police and witnesses said.
Although Touch Suon refused medical help, Muong Vann remained at Chey Chumneas provincial hospital in Kandal province, said Bun Thy, a doctor. Third-degree burns covered 25 percent of her body, Bun Thy said.
The couple’s adult daughter also suffered minor injuries in the attack, said Boeng Thoeun, Sa’ang district police chief.
Touch Suon’s 36-year-old son-in-law, Dam Chorn, who lives next door, said that the construction worker had been drinking Cambodian table wine through the night and got into an argument with his wife over his drunkenness.
The dispute escalated, and the construction worker’s wife demanded a divorce, rousting Touch Suon from bed to ask for the necessary paperwork, Dam Chorn said.
Touch Suon refused, telling the couple that it was too early in the morning to handle the case and asking them to go home.
“I don‘t have the right to grant you a divorce. Besides, it’s too late at night, so please come again tomorrow morning. I would ask both of you to compromise and calm down from the argument,” Touch Suon said, according to Boeng Thoeun.
The construction worker went home, but returned a few minutes later, carrying a 2-liter orange juice bottle filled with gasoline, Boeng Thoeun said.
“If you do not solve my problem, I will burn your house down,” the construction worker said, according to Boeng Thoeun.
“No way,” Touch Suon replied, according to Boeng Thoeun.
The construction worker charged, Dam Chorn said. He squirted Touch Suon with the fuel and then set him on fire with a cigarette lighter, Dam Chorn said.
Muong Vann ran to help her husband, Dam Chorn said. The construction worker dumped the rest of the bottle over her head and then lighted her on fire.
Dam Chorn, watching the scene from his home, ran out and chased the construction worker. The attacker ran to his home, and Dam Chorn said he ran back to help his parents.
Muong Vann flailed about the front yard, colliding with a light pole and house walls before finally crawling under the family’s house, Dam Chorn said.
Dam Chorn said neighbors put out the flames with mud from the day’s rains.
Touch Suon suffered burns on his arms and legs, but did not want to go to the hospital, Dam Chorn said.
Dam Chorn and another neighbor put Muong Vann into a hammock and dragged her to a nearby road. There they met a waiting ambulance, which took her to Chey Chumneas hospital, Dam Chorn said.
Several of Muong Vann’s burns were infected, and doctors were monitoring her to make sure she does not develop tetanus, Bun Thy said.
The construction worker had a history of becoming violent when drinking, Dam Chorn said. Last year, the construction worker beat a man in a fight.
But this is the first time Touch Suon has ever been attacked, Dam Chorn added.
“My father is a very gentle man,” Dam Chorn said.
Touch Suon, a farmer, had been Chong Koh village chief since 1979, his son-in-law added.
Chheng Phath, Kandal’s chief prosecutor, said that he had not received any of the relevant paperwork as of Thursday afternoon, but said that the event might justify attempted murder charges if the construction worker meant to kill Touch Suon.
The arrest warrant might not have been necessary if someone had alerted police sooner, Boeng Thoeun said.
“I was in the village that night and did not hear about the attack. If I knew about it sooner, I might have had him arrested,” Boeng Thoeun said.
Thursday morning, Muong Vann sat upright under a pink mosquito net. White gauze coated her neck, arms, legs and most of her chest, leaving her scarred breasts exposed. Skin, charred purple around the edge and a raw pink beneath, lined the rim of the gauze, which draped from her wounds.
She smiled and tried to raise her hands to greet visitors, but stopped halfway, wincing.
“She cannot speak,” a relative said. “Her throat has been burned.”