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Daughter, 18, Says Father Threatened to Murder Her

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Times Staff Writer

An 18-year-old Saugus woman testified Monday that her father had threatened to kill her the day before she and her mother were found in a crashed car doused with gasoline.

Natasha Peernock Sims’ testimony came during the fourth day of a preliminary hearing to determine if her father, Robert Peernock, 50, will stand trial on one count each of murder, attempted murder, arson and kidnaping.

In a separate case, Peernock also has been charged with soliciting the death of Sims and her attorney, Victoria W. Doom, while in County Jail, where he is being held without bail.

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Peernock, arrested Sept. 4, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

Sims and the body of Peernock’s estranged wife, Claire Laurence Peernock, 45, were found July 22 at 4:30 a.m. in Peernock’s car in Sun Valley. The auto had struck a utility pole and had been doused with gasoline in what officials said was a staged accident.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Davis-Springer said Peernock once worked as a pyrotechnical engineer for a movie studio.

An autopsy on Claire Peernock determined that she died before the crash from head wounds that were inconsistent with injuries that could have been suffered in a traffic accident, James B. Wegner, of the county coroner’s office, testified.

Blunt Instrument

Sims survived similar injuries, which were probably inflicted with a blunt instrument, Davis-Springer said.

Sims testified that the incident in which she was injured and her mother killed began early on the night of July 21 when her father accused her of wasting electricity. Peernock had not lived with Sims, her mother and her 11-year-old sister for three years, she said. But he frequently visited their Catala Street residence, she said.

The argument escalated, and Peernock choked her by putting his hands around her neck, Sims testified. She said she was not particularly alarmed by the assault since “he flipped out like that all the time.” He even apologized to her that evening, she said, before leaving her on the floor of the family room. But he returned shortly, handcuffed her and slipped a hood over her head, she testified.

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Sims said Peernock took her in her mother’s bedroom, force-fed her alcohol and a white pill, and told her he was going to “blow her brains out” with a gun unless she and Claire Peernock signed some papers. She did not elaborate on the nature of the papers. She testified that she then asked him if he planned to kill her, and he replied that he did.

After Peernock left the bedroom, Sims, who was semiconscious, said she could hear voices and “banging around” in the living room.

Sims Placed in Car

Hours later, Peernock put Sims in the back seat of his car next to her mother, she said. Claire Peernock was breathing at the time but did not respond to Sims’ nudges, she testified.

Sims said the last thing she remembers before passing out is her father getting out of the car and tinkering with something at its rear.

A passing motorist discovered Sims unconscious with Claire Peernock’s body in Peernock’s car along San Fernando Road near the intersection of Tuxford Street. The motorist called paramedics.

Clyde Piephoff, a Los Angeles paramedic, testified that the strong smell of gasoline and the existence of a singed rope attached to the rear trailer hitch of the car led him to suspect arson and to call police.

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Rigged Elaborately

Michael G. Camello, an arson investigator with the Los Angeles Fire Department, testified that Peernock’s vehicle had been rigged to crash and then burst into flames in “the most elaborate way I’ve ever seen.”

After the victims were placed in the front seat of the car, which was doused with gasoline, an L-shaped metal bar was bolted to the rear axle, he said. The end of the bar facing the car’s gasoline tank had been honed to a sharp point, he said. The bar was designed to pierce the gasoline tank upon impact, he said.

A rope was tied to the rear trailer hitch of the car and wrapped around the metal bar, Camello said. Based on evidence recovered, two fires had been lighted shortly before the car was put into drive and began rolling down a gentle incline, he said. One was set in the trunk of the car and one at the rear end of the rope leading to the metal bar, he said.

The fire along the rope leading to the metal bar would have ignited the gasoline if the tank had been pierced, Camello said. The plan was unsuccessful because the front end of the car was out of alignment, causing it to crash before it picked up enough speed for its impact to force the metal bar into the tank, he said.

Peernock’s girlfriend, Sonia Bianca Siegel, 43, has been charged with aiding Peernock while he was being sought by authorities. Siegel pleaded not guilty to one count of being an accessory after the fact.

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