- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

CLINTON, Ill. (AP) — A woman and her boyfriend were charged with first-degree murder yesterday in the deaths of her three children, who drowned when their car plunged into a lake in September in what had appeared to be an accident.

Sheriff Roger Massey would not say how the car rolled down a boat ramp into Clinton Lake, killing the 6-year-old, 3-year-old and toddler inside.

Sheriff Massey said authorities know the motive, but he would not provide details other than to say that it did not involve life-insurance money.

Maurice Lagrone Jr., 28, and Amanda Hamm, 27, were each charged with three counts of first-degree murder, Sheriff Massey said. They were arrested separately Tuesday and were being held on $5 million bail.

The children were Christopher Hamm, 6; Austin Brown, 3; and Kyleigh Hamm, 23 months. Mr. Lagrone was not their father.

Deputies arrived at the lake in central Illinois on Sept. 2 within five minutes of receiving a 911 call from Miss Hamm, who said her children were in the water. The two suspects were on the shore when rescuers arrived, and Miss Hamm was crying hysterically, according to one eyewitness.

Neither the couple nor investigators have offered a public explanation for why the couple were at the lake.

Authorities have said that the suspects were not launching or removing a boat, and it was not clear whether they had been in the car when it went into the water. The couple never spoke to reporters or returned messages for comment.

The sheriff said the car went in front first and the rear end was in 4 feet of water when rescuers arrived.

Immediately after the deaths, Sheriff Massey said the incident was being investigated as an accident. Within a day, he started calling it “the incident.”

Mr. Lagrone initially was charged with driving under the influence. That charge was dropped last month, and Sheriff Massey said yesterday that investigators do not believe drugs or alcohol were a factor.

Miss Hamm and Mr. Lagrone are scheduled to make their first court appearance this morning.

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