Watch CBSN Live

Mom drives into river, kills 3 kids; Son escapes

NEWBURGH, New York - Police said a 10-year-old boy escaped through the window of a minivan as his mother drove herself and three children into New York's Hudson River. The mother and three children died.

CBS New York reports Lashaun Armstrong managed to slip out of the van while the power windows were still functioning. He then swam back to the shore. Mavis Ryan, a passerby, found the soaking wet, shivering boy and took him to firefighters, authorities said.

Police said Lashanda Armstrong drove the minivan into the river in the city of Newburgh at about 8 p.m. Tuesday night. They say she was involved in a domestic incident right before she killed herself and the children.

The boy told firefighters his mother had driven off a boat ramp in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City, and into the murky water of the river, Chief Michael Vatter said. Two boys, five-year-old Pierce Armstrong, two-year-old Lance Pierre and their 11-month-old sister Lainina were drowned along with their mother, CBS New York reports.

Vatter said Lashaun had about two minutes to escape - he got out of one of the van's windows, pulled himself up onto a nearby boat ramp, turned around "and it was gone."

Lashanda's aunt, Angela Gilliam, said Lashaun is doing well.

Firefighters and police officers responded with boats. Divers searched for the minivan for about an hour before finding it submerged in 10 feet of water about 25 meters offshore. They used a heavy-duty tow truck to pull it up the boat ramp and onto land.

Everyone inside was dead, Vatter said.

The woman lived about six blocks from where she and her children perished, he said.

Gilliam, Lashanda Armstrong's aunt, said she spoke to her niece earlier Tuesday and she was "not too good." Gilliam later called police in Newburgh about her niece's well-being and they acknowledge that officers went to the apartment. Neither Gilliam nor police provided other details about the domestic incident.

By the time police got there, Armstrong had already taken the fatal plunge with her children.

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

Armstrong seemed stressed but not depressed when she picked up the children Tuesday at the Young and Unique Christian Development Child Care, said Shaniesha Strange, supervisor in the infant room.

"It just seemed like she was having a bad day," Strange said. "I could see that something was kind of bothering her but she didn't talk about it. She wasn't one to talk about her business. The only thing she'd say was that she was so alone. She's a single parent, she takes great care of her kids, goes to school, and works. She really needed a helping hand."

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.

Photos: Tragedy on the Hudson

"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 domestic altercation occurred about 10 minutes before the woman drove into the river, said Vatter, who didn't have any more information on it. The concrete ramp was just a few blocks from her apartment.

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.

View CBS News In