VALPARAISO — The Portage woman charged with abandoning her three children at home without running water or a working furnace remains behind bars without bond after claiming she was unable to understand her rights during an initial court appearance.

Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford halted the initial hearing Thursday morning after Thanh Nguyen indicated she could not understand the English being spoken.

Nguyen asked whether the issue of her bond could be taken up, but the judge said the hearing would be continued at a later date with a Vietnamese interpreter.

The case will be resumed by Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper, who was unavailable for Thursday's hearing.

The 46-year-old woman has been charged with three felony counts of child abandonment — one for each of her children she is accused of leaving alone for extended periods of time in a mobile home.

Nguyen also was charged with a fourth felony count of possessing a legend drug, which is a prescription drug for which she did not have a prescription, according to court records.

The charges are all Level 6 felonies, each of which carries a potential sentence of up to 2 1/2 years behind bars.

The accusations came to light when the oldest of her three children, who is 16, sought help from school officials for a broken water pipe at their home in 1100 block of Camelot Manor, according to Portage police.

He and his siblings, ages 11 and 10, told police Nguyen stops by just long enough to drop off food on occasion and then cannot be reached by phone, according to a police report.

A school official reported the children have been heating the home with three space heaters and sometimes the oven turned on with the door left open, police said.

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"Mom hasn't been home for a very long time," the 10-year-old girl reportedly told police. "She's gone for months at a time."

Police said when they located Nguyen, she said she had been at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan. She denied the claims of her children, telling police, "I come home after they sleep and leave before they get up."

An employee of a nail salon where Nguyen worked told police she was supposed to be working on the day of the police visit, but did not show up, which they said was typical behavior for her, according to the police report.

The eldest son told investigators he has been caring for his younger siblings "for as long as he can remember," according to the police report. "He added he cooks their meals, cleans the house and makes sure they get all of their chores/homework done."

The boy said his father was away on vacation in California, and his mother prohibits the children from contacting him, police said.

Nguyen reportedly begged police to let her go home and not take her children away from her.

"I love my kids," she was quoted by police as yelling. "They can't go to foster care."

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.