BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. (AP) _ Authorities searched coastal waters Wednesday for the bodies of four young children believed to have been thrown off a bridge by their father in a dispute with his wife.
Lam Luong, 37, who is charged with four counts of capital murder, confessed Tuesday night to driving to the Dauphin Island bridge and tossing the youngsters off the span, which is as high as 80 feet above the water in places, said Detective Scott Riva.
Bayou La Batre Police Chief John Joyner said Luong, who came to this coastal town from Vietnam in 1984 and was a shrimper, apparently had a dispute with his wife, Ngoc Phan, 23, before taking the children to the bridge Monday morning.
Officers said he confessed late Tuesday and was jailed shortly before midnight. The search, called off due to fog Tuesday evening, resumed at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday in warm, humid weather.
The couple lived with her mother at Bayou La Batre, a fishing village with a large Southeast Asian community. The wife was in seclusion Wednesday morning in the brick home, the front porch cluttered with children's shoes.
Phan's brother-in-law, family spokesman Kam Phengsisomboun, who is from Thailand, said the couple had argued Sunday night and again Monday, when Luong left the home with two of the children, later coming back for the other two.
He said Luong had a crack cocaine habit and had spent an insurance settlement from an automobile accident rapidly, presumably on drugs, but he did not know what the argument was about. He said he initially feared Luong had traded the children for drugs, but now believes they were thrown into the water, based on conversations with investigators.
He said he was told that a witness saw someone throw a bundle from the bridge and then saw three children in a nearby car. Other details about the witness account were not immediately available from authorities.
Phengsisomboun also said the couple had lived in Hinesville, Ga., for about two years and had moved back to the Bayou La Batre area only a couple of weeks ago.
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said the search, including divers and cadaver dogs in small boats as well as three helicopters, involved 70 people and covered 100 square miles. The bridge, a two-lane span about three miles long with a high rise over the Intracoastal Wterway, extends from the mainland to Dauphin Island and the Gulf of Mexico. To the west of the island is Mississippi Sound.
Sheriff's officers said the children were believed to have been dropped from the highest part of the bridge, some 80 feet above the water, on the west side lane. The waterway is 55 feet deep in the main channel, dropping off to about 8 feet nearer shore.
Asked if there was any chance the children were alive and could be rescued, Cochran replied, "We're really in the recovery stage at this point."
Missing and presumed dead were 4-month-old Danny Luong; 1-year-old Lindsey Luong; 2-year-old Hannah Luong; and 3-year-old Ryan Phan. Phan is not the man's biological child, but Luong raised him from infancy.
Luong is jailed in Mobile, and Riva said he did not know whether the man had a lawyer. There was no telephone listing for Luong, who was due in court Wednesday.
Police said Luong reported the children missing Monday. He reportedly told authorities that a woman who had the children failed to return them to him. The search began late Tuesday when authorities learned they apparently were thrown from the bridge.