Alabama sheriff says witness places father, children on bridge morning kids disappeared

Published 8:04 am Saturday, January 12, 2008

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A witness reported seeing four children in their father’s vehicle on the bridge from which investigators say he tossed them, and another witness later saw the father leave the area without the children, a sheriff said Friday.

Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said the witness accounts contradict Lam Luong’s claim that he gave the children to a friendly Asian woman and was coerced by authorities into saying he threw them from the Dauphin Island bridge Monday morning.

“All the credible evidence brings us right back here to Dauphin Island and that’s why we continue to search,” Cochran said.

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He said there’s no evidence the children are alive. Crews have been searching the water around the coastal bridge for bodies of the children, ranging in age from a few months to 3 years.

Cochran said after one witness saw Luong with the children on the bridge, a second sold him gas on the island and the children were not with him.

Luong, 37, first told police that two women in Bayou La Batre who claimed to know his wife, 23-year-old Kieu Phan, took the children at about 9:15 a.m. Monday and never returned them. He later told authorities he tossed them from the bridge, but recanted the confession Thursday after meeting with a defense attorney and stuck to the initial account.

Cochran said claims that the children may have been taken to Mississippi or left with Luong’s girlfriend were checked out and proved false.

The search for the children’s bodies expanded Friday from the 100 square miles combed since Tuesday to 150 square miles. Helicopters, boats, people on shore with binoculars and deputies on horseback participated in the search, although the Coast Guard ended its participation Thursday.

The search was expected to continue this weekend.

Luong was denied bond Thursday on four charges of capital murder.

His appointed defense attorney, Joe Kulakowski, said Luong told him authorities should be searching Asian communities for two women who left with the children in a van.

The Alabama coast has a substantial number of Asian immigrants working in the seafood industry. Luong had worked as a shrimper in the fishing village of Bayou La Batre.

In the waters off Dauphin Island, near the mouth of Mobile Bay, investigators were using sonar equipment that has turned up debris, logs, fish traps, hurricane detritus — even a baby shoe that a sheriff’s spokesman said led searchers to a nearby river, but no bodies.