Darian Walker, 22, lay dying on the floor of a SeaTac 7-Eleven store, about to lose consciousness after being stabbed at least six times. The store’s clerk called 911, then filmed video of Walker identifying and describing his attacker — his 20-year-old girlfriend, who he said also stole his SUV, according to King County prosecutors.
Walker died in surgery at Harborview Medical Center later that morning, on June 6.
It took King County sheriff’s detectives 12 days to track down Walker’s girlfriend, Vasiane Sao, who was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder domestic violence.
Sao’s case is one of three domestic violence murder charges filed this month in King County.
Although domestic-violence homicides at nearly the midpoint of 2021 represent 20% of the estimated 50 homicides committed in King County as of Sunday, they’re indicative of the ongoing violence among family members and intimate partners that police, prosecutors and victim advocates feared would come about as a result of victims being stuck at home with their abusers during the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2020, 18 of the county’s 109 homicide victims were killed in domestic-violence related incidents, a number that includes two men who were both allegedly stabbed to death by their girlfriends’ former partner, according to a Seattle Times database compiled with information from police, prosecutors and the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. All but one domestic-violence homicide was committed after the state went into lockdown that March.
Even as the country increasingly emerges from pandemic-induced isolation, advocates for domestic-violence survivors say the stresses caused by job losses, the struggle to put food on the table and the pressure to pay landlords for back rent — despite the governor’s three-month extension of the eviction moratorium — will mean the mostly women and children most vulnerable to domestic violence will remain so for the foreseeable future.
“For us, the effects of the pandemic are definitely not over,” said Wendi Lindquist, a spokesperson for LifeWire, a Bellevue-based nonprofit that serves domestic-violence survivors in east and north King County. She thinks it’ll take a couple years for the pandemic’s impact on domestic violence to fade.
Last year, LifeWire and its partner agencies provided safe shelter or housing services for 486 families and 1,321 individuals, double the number from 2019, Lindquist said. Not only was there greater demand for services, but LifeWire’s service staff also heard from clients that “the violence (they faced) was escalated and the chance of lethality was greater,” she said.
Early on in the pandemic, calls to New Beginnings, a Seattle nonprofit, dropped because victims remained in proximity to their abusers, Executive Director Susan Segall said. The agency pivoted to providing remote services, support groups and legal clinics, which helped improve accessibility, she said.
Segall said the pandemic escalated abuse-related trauma and limited survivors’ options for addressing the financial fallout of being laid off or seeing their work hours cut, eroding the kind of stability that can take years to build back up.
There were delays in dissolving marriages and establishing parenting plans, “then (there was) just the added fear and depression and anxiety that COVID either triggered or exacerbated,” Segall said. “This year has been one of extreme emotional load. The added layers of distress were quite palpable.”
In 2020, King County prosecutors filed 1,309 felony domestic-violence charges for murder, rape, assault and felony violation of no-contact orders, up from the 1,180 charges filed in 2019, according to information provided by Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. As of June 10, prosecutors had filed 403 felony domestic-violence charges since the beginning of 2021, he said.
With both county courthouses closed to most in-person services last year, King County rolled out an online filing system for civil petitions for domestic-violence no-contact orders in March 2020. Last year, 2,825 petitions were filed, down slightly from the 2,885 petitions filed in 2019, according to stats provided by McNerthney. In the first three months of 2021, 707 petitions were filed, 4% more than in the same period in 2020 and nearly 10% more than were filed between January and March 2019.
Four women, three men and two boys, ages 8 and 14, have died so far this year as a result of domestic violence, according to Seattle Times data. Sgt. Tim Meyer, a King County sheriff’s spokesperson, said detectives are still investigating a girl’s suspicious death in May that also appears related to violence in her home.
Six of the deaths have been attributed to a former or current intimate partner, with the remainder allegedly committed by a family member, according to the data, which is limited to cases in which an assailant was identified and/or criminally charged.
All but one of 12 suspects charged in 2020 with first- or second-degree murder domestic violence are male, according to the Times’ data. Two other men committed suicide after killing their female partners, and a third either killed himself or accidentally died in a tank of bleach solution at Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park.
So far this year, six men and two women have been criminally charged for allegedly killing a current or former intimate partner or family member, the data show.
Sao, the 20-year-old woman charged in Walker’s stabbing death, remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.
In the days before Walker’s death, Sao took his SUV to Los Angeles, where she and a juvenile companion were pulled over by police on May 23 and the juvenile was arrested for possessing a firearm, according to the charges and the probable-cause statement presented during Sao’s initial court appearance on June 21. Walker flew to L.A. on June 4, paid $900 to get his Nissan Rogue out of impound, then drove back to Washington. Around 12:30 a.m. on June 6, he arrived at a SeaTac apartment complex in the 21200 block of International Boulevard, the court records say. Although he rented an apartment there, the records say Sao was believed to be the only occupant.
There, Walker backed the SUV up to a gate, got out and spoke to Sao for a couple minutes before she “suddenly lunged forward,” pushing Walker to the ground and grappling with him, say the charges, citing video-surveillance footage of the attack. An unidentified male joined in on the assault, punching Walker, and the footage shows Sao making what looked in the footage like stabbing motions. At one point in the 3-minute attack, Sao and the unidentified male were seen dragging Walker out of the SUV’s driver’s seat and continuing the assault, according to the charges.
Sao and her male companion took off in the SUV with Walker in the back seat, but it appears he was only in the vehicle a short time because detectives later found a blood trail along 29th Avenue South to South 216th Street, which then curved west to the 7-Eleven where Walker collapsed, the charges say. An autopsy showed that Walker suffered six major stab wounds to his chest, shoulders, back and hip.
Sheriff’s detectives found Walker’s SUV in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood two days later and ultimately arrested Sao on June 18 at an apartment building at Sixth Avenue and Yesler Way, say the charges, which note Sao did not have a stable address and would briefly stay with family members and friends.
Sao is to be arraigned July 7.
In a separate case, two days before Sao’s arrest, prosecutors charged Romaria “Rose” Clark, 22, with second-degree murder domestic violence. She is accused of stabbing her 65-year-old boyfriend, Jeffrey “Joker” Allinder on April 13, court records show. Allinder, who Seattle police found bleeding from multiple stab wounds to his face, chest and arms inside his apartment in the 6900 block of 62nd Avenue Northeast, died from his injuries a week later at Harborview, the charges say.
Clark was arrested on an unrelated warrant when she was released from Fairfax Hospital on June 14, say the charges, which don’t indicate why she had been a patient at the Kirkland psychiatric hospital. She remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail and is to be arraigned June 30, jail and court records show.
Court records did not yet indicate which attorney is representing Sao; Clark’s public defender could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.