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Ala. shrimper accused of throwing his 4 young children off bridge; search for bodies resumes

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Posted: January 10, 2008 3:50 p.m.
Updated: January 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. — Search crews in boats resumed looking Thursday for the bodies of four young children while a judge denied bond for their father, who is accused of throwing them from an 80-foot coastal bridge.
    Boats went back into waters around the Dauphin Island bridge early Thursday, though heavy fog kept divers and helicopters on hold.
    Lam Luong, 37, was charged with four counts of capital murder in the death of the children, who range in age from 4 months to 3 years, after he broke down and confessed, authorities said Wednesday.
    District Judge Charles McKnight denied bond Thursday morning, describing the allegations as ‘‘heinous.’’
    Luong’s court-appointed attorney, Joe Kulakowski, was conferring with him and not immediately available for comment.
    District Attorney John Tyson Jr. declined to discuss details of the case.
    Authorities believe Luong threw the children from the bridge after an argument with his wife, but they gave no details on what the dispute was about. Luong had a crack cocaine possession charge pending in Georgia, and his wife’s brother-in-law described Luong as a drug addict.
    The search for the bodies had been halted Wednesday afternoon when the dense fog rolled in and obscured the bridge, a three-mile span over the Intracoastal Waterway. Authorities held out little hope of finding them.
    While some friends and family members maintained hope the children remain alive, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said searchers were ‘‘in the recovery stage at this point.’’
    Luong’s wife, 23-year-old Kieu Ngoc Phan, discovered the children were missing Monday and went with Luong to the police, Tyson said. Luong initially told them the children were with his girlfriend from New York in a hotel in Gulfport, Miss., and that she had failed to return them, according to family members and authorities.
    Based in part on a witness’s account, investigators said the children were thrown from the highest part of the two-lane span Monday morning, a point about 80 feet above the waterway. The channel below that part of the bridge has a depth of 55 feet.
    Phan’s brother-in-law, Kam Phengsisomboun, said he was told that a witness saw someone throw a bundle from the bridge and then saw three children in a nearby car. Tyson said there was a witness but declined to give details.
    Luong came to the United States from Vietnam in 1984 and was employed as a shrimpboat fisherman. He and his wife lived with their children and a grandmother in a brick home near Bayou La Batre, a fishing village 20 miles southwest of Mobile, with a large Southeast Asian community.
    Presumed dead are: 4-month-old Danny; 1-year-old Lindsey; 2-year-old Hannah; and 3-year-old Ryan Phan, who was raised from infancy by Luong but is not his biological child.
    Phengsisomboun, who is from Thailand, said Luong had quickly spent money from an insurance settlement after an automobile accident. He said he initially feared Luong had traded the children for drugs.
    Luong was arrested Oct. 10 in Hinesville, Ga., on a charge accusing him of possessing crack. Luong called police and ‘‘requested an officer at his residence because he had used narcotics and wanted to turn himself in,’’ according to a report by Officer Jeffrey Liu.
    Luong was giving his children a bath when Liu arrived, the report states. He eventually emerged from the bathroom and pulled from a shirt pocket a pipe and ‘‘a whitish yellow rock that appeared to be crack cocaine,’’ Liu wrote.
    A grand jury has yet to act on the case. Luong advised Hinesville authorities on Nov. 1 that he had moved.
    Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., contributed to this report.

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