Mom drives van into Hudson, killing self, 3 kids

April 14, 2011 3:00:08 AM PDT
The fire dispatcher who first saw the 10-year-old boy whose mother drove their minivan into the Hudson River with his three siblings inside described their encounter.

It is an amazing story of survival, that 10-year-old Lashaun Armstrong was able to free himself from the sinking car and swim to safety.

When he got to the firehouse, he was crying out for just one person, his mother, the very person who had just tried to kill him.

"He kept repeating, please help my mommy, she's in the water, please help my mommy," said Ismael Torres, a Newburgh Fire Dispatcher.

When Torres first saw Lashaun Armstrong at the fire house door, he thought he needed air for his bike tires.

Then, he realized the 10-year-old was soaking wet, shivering, and crying.

"He was unable to help me, he just kept crying and saying help my mommy, help my mommy and the baby," Torres said.

It was at a pier in Newburgh that the young mother did the unthinkable Tuesday night: driving her minivan into the Hudson River with her four young children inside.

Lashandra Armstrong, 25, and her two-year-old son Lance, 11-month-old daughter Lainaina and 5-year-old son Landon drowned.

"It's very devastating. I cannot believe what happened to her. Very nice lady," Tina Claybourne, a friend, said.

The sole survivor is 10-year-old Lashaun Alexander, who was able to lower the power window of the minivan and swim in 45-degree water to shore.

"He got out of the car, got up onto the boat ramp, turned around and it was gone," Vatter said.

A passerby took him to a nearby firehouse for help.

When the van hit the water around 8 p.m., it was just past high tide and the Hudson was flowing swiftly to the south, pulling the vehicle some 25 yards out into the rain- and melt-swollen river, Fire Chief Michael Vatter said.

The chief figured the van floated in the 45-degree water for no more than two minutes.

Divers searched for about an hour before finding the minivan submerged in 10 feet of water.

"It took about an hour to get the car out of the water. And we have one adult and three children in the car,"Newburgh police chief Michael Ferrara said.

As Armstrong was drove into the Hudson, police were arriving at the family's apartment a few blocks away, alerted by relatives who were worried after getting a phone call from Lashandra.

"The kids were screaming, so we got in the car and came up here to see what was going on," Angele Gilliam, the mother's aunt, said. "When I left my house, I called 911."

Friends say Armstrong had a rocky relationship with Jean Pierre, the father of her three youngest children.

A downstairs neighbor who didn't want to be identified says the couple often fought over Pierre's alleged womanizing.

"From the outside, it looks perfect. But, from the inside, I know there was a lot of things going on between them," she said.

"A few months ago she asked me to change the locks," landlord John Boubaris said. "I changed the locks upstairs and downstairs. I didn't question her. She wanted the locks changed. No problem."

Three months later she asked to have the locks changed yet again... Neighbors describe Armstrong as a devoted mother who sent her children to day care while she attended Orange County Community College.

"She had issues off and on, but I never would have thought something like this," center director Desiree Watson said.

Police said there was no history of domestic violence at the address.

Neighbors in the city of about 30,000 said the children seemed energetic and happy and would play on the block and ride bikes.

"The whole scene, what occurred in Newburgh, will have lasting effect on this city," Mayor Nick Valentine said. "No matter what type of investigating you do, this will always be something that will be remembered in a sad way."

Mourners immediately created a memorial of stuffed animals and flowers at the boat ramp.

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