CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. March 18 2009
wsoc.com– A suspected opium smuggler facing charges in the Catawba County slayings of a mother and her three children killed himself after a police chase in Utah that ended with his crashed car in flames, authorities said Wednesday.
The sheriff of Catawba County said they believe people in the house were also involved in opium trafficking, which lead to the slayings.
Chief Deputy Coy Reid of the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office said the suspect killed himself after a high-speed chase in Washington County, Utah, late Tuesday. Reid said officials with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the man fatally shot his girlfriend, who was in the vehicle, then turned the gun on himself.
Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman identified the man as Chiew Chan Saevang and the woman as Yer Yang of Long View.
Saevang was wanted in last week’s killings of Lisa Phan and her three children — 20-year-old Melanie, 18-year-old Pauline and 3-year-old Cody — at their home north of Conover. Phan’s husband and the children’s father, Brian Tzeo, was at work when his family was killed.
Investigators are not sure if Yang was involved in the homicides, but they had interviewed her in the case.
Saevang’s vehicle, a green 1994 BMW 325 with North Carolina license plate XVY-3743, was spotted in Utah seven minutes after a national alert from authorities in Catawba County, who had learned the suspect may have been driving through the state headed toward California.
Washington County sheriff’s deputies tried to stop the BMW around 2 a.m. EST, 11 p.m. in Utah, and the vehicle hit another car, then drove up an embankment and came to a rest on the hillside.
While deputies were approaching, the BMW caught fire. They pulled Saevang and Yang from the vehicle, and then determined they were already dead. Huffman said he got confirmation of the identities of the people in the car at 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Reid said North Carolina officials had been preparing warrants against Saevang for murder as well as a charge of conspiracy to traffic opium. Warrants were also being prepared for Yang for accessory after the fact to murder.
Huffman said Saevang had been arrested on drug charges in Catawba County in 2004. He served 46 months in federal prison.
Huffman said someone in the family’s home was involved in opium trafficking, but he would not elaborate.
According to The Spectrum newspaper in Utah, the family had received a shipment of opium from Thailand, which was smuggled in through the mail. It was worth $160,000 to $200,000. The paper reports the family knew Saevang and let him into the home.
It also reports Saevang and Yang had taken cooked opium from the family’s house up to Wisconsin before.
State Bureau of Investigation officials said Tzeo could face opium trafficking charges. Authorities would not say whether he will be allowed to travel to California for his family members’ burials.
Huffman said some investigators are currently in Wisconsin following up on leads in the case. He said the vehicle originally believed to have been involved in the slayings, a Toyota Camry with partial tag PT24, was found in that state. He said investigators knew late Tuesday that the Saevang had left Wisconsin for California, and Utah authorities spotted his vehicle just minutes after an alert went out.
Huffman said a significant lead in the case came from a call after “America’s Most Wanted” aired a segment on the homicides Saturday.
Investigators armed with a search warrant went through the home where the family was killed and found a clear plastic bag containing a “suspected controlled substance.” They also took away cash, computers, cell phones, a knife and a pistol.
Investigators found the victims after a friend of Pauline’s called 911 on Thursday morning, screaming and sobbing as she told the operator Pauline had just been pulled into her home and stabbed by a man. The friend had picked up Pauline for school that morning, but they went back after the friend said she had seen a suspicious man outside the house.
Tzeo has said he and his wife had separated and that he had an affair but they were still living together and trying to work things out.
He and his wife each reported in their separate bankruptcy filings that they owed tens of thousands of dollars in debts, according to court documents. He filed in July 2007, and the case was settled and closed that same November.
She filed in January of this year, still reporting the couple to be separated and listing her sole dependent as a 3-year-old son. Court filings in the case continued until the day she died.
Visitation for the slain family members is scheduled for Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Jenkins Funeral Home
in Newton. They will be buried in El Sobrante, Calif.