- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NEWBURGH, N.Y. | A 10-year-old boy who clambered out the window of a minivan his mother drove into the fast-moving Hudson River on Tuesday night probably had less than two minutes to escape, a fire official said. The boy’s mother and three of his siblings died.

Lashaun Armstrong was the only survivor after Lashanda Armstrong, 25, plunged the van into the river in this gritty city 60 miles north of New York City.

When the van hit the water at about 8 p.m., it was just past high tide and the Hudson was flowing swiftly to the south, pulling the van some 25 yards out into the rain- and melt-swollen river, Fire Chief Michael Vatter said. Chief Vatter figured the van floated in the 45-degree water for no more than two minutes.

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

The boy’s great-aunt, Angela Gilliam, told the Associated Press that he was “doing good” Wednesday and “taking it all in.”

“He rolled the window down and got out,” Mrs. Gilliam said.

In the van with Mrs. 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.

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

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

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

Mrs. 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,” Miss 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.”

Chief 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. Chief 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.

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.

Mrs. 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 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.

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