PHILADELPHIA — A man who survived being beaten, bound, stabbed in the neck and kicked into the Schuylkill River took the stand in a hearing Tuesday and described the night his two friends lost their lives.
Tam Voong, 20, said he used a submerged rock to cut his wrist ties and crawled up the riverbank on Kelly Drive to get help. He was nearly killed while trying to deliver some of the $100,000 that his friend Vu "Kevin" Huynh said he owed his captors.
Authorities describe the 31-year-old Huynh as a popular singer in his native Vietnam and a heavy gambler who racked up a $100,000 debt at a casino near Philadelphia. The other victim was his 28-year-old brother, Viet Huynh.
Voong said he arrived at the defendant's house to find the brothers bound and badly beaten and five men holding them hostage. He had only been able to raise $40,000 but never got to deliver it before all three were put in a van and taken to the river.
Tam Le, 41, faces a double murder trial after a judge at Tuesday's preliminary hearing upheld murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault and other charges for trial. The other suspects have not been captured.
Viet Huynh was stabbed 10 times and his brother 32 times, according to autopsy results. Both lived in Paoli, near Philadelphia, but traveled frequently to Vietnam, authorities said.
Le, with a shaved head and a strip of hair on his chin, stared intently at Voong during his long testimony.
He held his head in his hands as he listened to the statement his wife gave police during his five months on the lam. She told them that they had taken their children to Rochester, New York, after the Aug. 27 deaths.
Le told her about the river killings and was stunned when she told him someone had survived, she said.
"Tam got real pale and was getting real nervous and saying he couldn't believe someone survived," Bich Vo testified. "He then told me that he couldn't return to Philadelphia because the cops would be looking for him."
She said she thought the debt involved about $20,000 they owed her husband for used appliances. Le was on parole in a New York manslaughter case at the time.
The slayings occurred two weeks after Vu Huynh and Voong were arrested in upstate New York with more than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of marijuana. Voong, who described himself as a former drug dealer, said he had also been kidnapped weeks earlier in a separate incident in Philadelphia.
Under questioning from Le's lawyer, Christopher Phillips, he said he did not belong to an Asian drug gang. He said he simply did favors whenever his friend Vu called. That's why he agreed to try to round up $100,000, he said.
Police are not sure if Vu's debt stemmed from the seized marijuana or $100,000 he had lost over six months at Harrah's Casino in Chester, Homicide Detective Shawn Leahy said.