NEWBURGH, N.Y. — A 10-year-old boy escaped through the window of a minivan and swam to shore to get help just as his mother drove the van into New York's Hudson River, killing herself and three other children, police said Wednesday.
Lashanda Armstrong, 25, drove the minivan into the river off a boat ramp in the city of Newburgh about 8 p.m. Tuesday, shortly after a domestic incident, police said. The van went into the river just six blocks from where the family lived in this faded city about 60 miles north of New York City.
Fire Chief Michael Vatter said a passer-by saw Lashaun Armstrong come out of the river, picked up the soaking wet boy and took him to a nearby fire department. Vatter said the boy was so distraught that he had difficulty talking but ultimately told firefighters what happened. Rescuers went immediately to the river but it was too late to save the four victims.
In the van with Lashanda Armstrong were Landon Pierre, 5, Lance Pierre, 2, and 11-month-old Lainaina Pierre, police said. Her husband and the father of the three dead children, Jean Pierre, was questioned. Police would not give details of the interview or say if the father had been charged with anything.
Shortly before she drove the van into the river, a relative called police to report a domestic incident at Armstrong's apartment. By the time police got there, Armstrong and her children were gone. They said there was no history of domestic violence at the address.
Firefighters and police officers responded to the 45-degree river with boats. Divers searched for the minivan for about an hour before finding it submerged in 10 feet of water about 25 yards offshore. They used a heavy-duty tow truck to pull it up the boat ramp and onto land.
Everyone inside was dead.
Armstrong lived in an apartment in a gritty part of this humble river city. Several neighbors on Wednesday recalled her as an attentive mother who balanced care of her children with an outside job. They were shocked by the news.
"She was a very good mom," said Tina Claybourne, who lives nearby. "She took care of her kids. She always was with her kids."
Neighbors said they did not know the woman's name or where she worked. They said the children seemed energetic and happy and would play on the block and ride bikes.
"You know kids, they make noise, they play around," said Shantay Means, a downstairs neighbor.
The boat ramp was unguarded by gate or chain. There was no sign that anything tragic had happened save for a single teddy bear left at the end of a dock that runs alongside the boat ramp.
Newburgh, which has about 30,000 residents, sits on the western shore of the part of the river that runs south through New York state and eventually splits New York and New Jersey.
A similar incident occurred in 2006, about 20 miles south of Newburgh.
In 2007, Victor Han, of Queens, was sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to child endangerment. Han admitted he knew he was putting his daughters at risk when he stepped out of the family minivan on Bear Mountain in June 2006, leaving them with their mother, 35-year-old Hejin Han. She then drove the Honda Odyssey off a 300-foot drop, killing herself. The mother was killed but the children somehow survived the plunge.
It's also reminiscent of the case of a South Carolina woman who drowned her young sons in 1994.
Susan Smith is serving a life sentence for killing 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex by strapping them into their car seats and driving the car into a pond. Smith originally claimed she was carjacked before the truth came out.