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11 Years Later, He's Charged With Unspeakable Crime

Ohio's Peter Romans accused in arson that killed his wife and 2 children in 2008
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2019 10:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – An Ohio man was arrested this week and charged with killing his wife and two children by setting fire to their family home. Beyond the heinousness of the alleged crime is this wrinkle—the fire took place in 2008. Peter Romans, 59, is now in jail on three counts of murder for the deaths of wife Billi, 51; son Caleb, 12; and daughter Ami, 16. He also faces arson charges. Authorities haven't said what, if any, new evidence emerged to prompt the charges, reports the Washington Post. A look at the case:

  • The fire: It began late one night in the carport next to the house, reports the Columbus Dispatch. Romans has said his wife woke him to say their Ford Expedition was on fire. He says he went out to the garage to move another vehicle away from it, then couldn't get back inside the house because the fire was so bad. Instead, he went to a neighbor's.
  • 911 calls: Both Billi and Ami called 911 from the house as smoke and flames enveloped the building. Neither they nor Caleb got out. Billi can be heard screaming at her children to get out.

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  • The vehicle: Romans blames the fire on a faulty cruise-control switch, and the vehicle was, in fact, under a recall for that at the time. However, investigators say the switch was found to be largely intact after the fire. Crucially, they also say the vehicle burned from the outside in, and they found accelerant. "That appeared to eliminate, at least in our minds, that the cruise control switch was the start of the fire," said one investigator. Authorities declared the fire to be arson, not accidental.
  • Separate lawsuit: Romans continues to blame Ford and related companies for the fire, and his trial in a federal lawsuit is scheduled to start in weeks, notes the Dispatch. His lawyer thinks the timing of the arrest is odd. "Why now?" asks Sam Shamansky. "What evidence has changed after 11 years?" He tells WSYX that his client is "most certainly innocent."
  • Video: The Dispatch previously put together a short video on the case, including personal details on the victims, here.
  • Early sympathy: The fire stunned the community, where Billi was well-liked in her role as a receptionist at a Christian school. "I don't know how the man could go on after losing his wife and two children," neighbor Patricia Cash told WBNS at the time of the fire. His church also rallied around Romans, who has since remarried.
(Read more cold cases stories.)

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