Authorities believe that the woman, 25-year-old Lashandra Armstrong, drove off the boat ramp at the foot of Washington Street in Newburgh and into the Hudson River around 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The minivan, Armstrong, her 5- and 2-year-old sons and her 11-month-old baby girl were pulled dead from the water an hour later, around 9 p.m. Fire Chief Michael Vatter says the woman's 10-year-old son, Lashaun Armstrong, was able to escape the van by rolling down the power window after the car entered the river. He swam to shore, where a woman passing by found him soaking wet and ran with him to authorities. That woman has been identified as Mavis Ryan.
The family only lives a few blocks from the scene.
Newburgh police say they got a 911 call about a domestic dispute between Armstrong and 26-year-old husband Jean Pierre, the father of three of her four children, around 7:45 p.m. The call was reportedly placed by concerned relatives who lived in Rockland County. Police say no one was at the home when they responded.
About 10 minutes later, Lashaun Armstrong arrived at a fire house and told firefighters that his mom had driven into the Hudson.
"The car was located, it was below surface," Newburgh police chief Michael Ferrara said. "And it took about an hour to get the car out of the water. And we have one adult and three children in the car."
Police say they had to use a heavy-duty tow truck to get the car out, and that the scene was cleared around 10:30.
"The whole scene, what occurred in Newburgh, will have lasting effect on this city," Mayor Nick Valentine said. "No matter what type of investigating you do, this will always be something that will be remembered in a sad way."
The dead children have been identified as 5-year-old Landon Pierre, 2-year-old Lance Pierre and 11-month-old Lainaina Pierre.
The Medical Examiner will determine the exact cause of death and verify that the children were all alive when the van entered the water.
Neighbors on Wednesday recalled Lashondra Armstrong as an attentive mother who balanced care of her children with an outside job.
"She was a very good mom," said Tina Claybourne, who lives nearby. "She took care of her kids. She always was with her kids."