Ebony Wilkerson is charged with three counts of attempted murder, one for each child, as well as child abuse charges, insert, her van is seen after the rescue of all three children. Photo: Simon Besner/ABC News
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (ABC) - A pregnant Florida mother who drove her minivan filled with her three children in it into the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday has been charged with attempted murder, authorities said.
The Volusia County, Fla., sheriff's department said Ebony Wilkerson, 32, is charged with three counts of attempted murder, one for each child, as well as child abuse charges.
She is being held in Volusia County jail pending a court appearance.
Sheriff Ben Johnson said today that there was no evidence Wilkerson suffered from mental illness or was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.
The mom of three children -- ages 3, 9, and 10 -- is 27-and-a-half weeks pregnant, Johnson said.
Family members of Wilkerson, who is from Cross, S.C., had called police earlier in the day out of concern for the woman, but she told police she was going to a domestic abuse center with the children, police said earlier in the week.
Instead, she drove her Honda Odyssey minivan to Daytona Beach, where she rolled up the windows, told her children to go to sleep, and headed for the ocean, according to police. Bystanders who witnessed her gunning for the surf ran toward the minivan and tried to stop the woman.
"[My girlfriend] said what I thought was a joke and [I] was like, 'No, this is real', because after that her son came out the window, probably about waist high, screaming for help," Stacy Robinson, one of the men who rushed up to the van, told ABC News.
Robinson, 21, said he jumped out of his car and ran over to the minivan and started walking beside the vehicle, talking to the mother.
"The son was snatching at the wheel, trying to get her to come back toward the shore and I was asking, I was like, 'What is going on, why are you driving on the water?' I said, 'you're going to get in trouble... you're not supposed to be doing this,'" Robinson said.
"All she repeated is 'OK, we are OK, we are OK,'" Robinson said. "I was like, 'you've got to get out of the water. You're going to get in trouble. You got kids. You're scaring them. They're crying.' And she said, she was like, 'OK' as through she was coming back out the water and took off. She sped off."
Robinson said he then ran into the pounding waves after the minivan, which started to sink. The mother, he said, had rolled up the car windows and locked the doors as the vehicle was rocked by waves and pulled deeper into the water.
The three kids were screaming for help at the time, witnesses recalled.
Robinson said one of the back windows was still cracked open and he was able to reach in and open the door.
"That's when I snatched out the boy first and the little girl," he said. "Then I noticed the baby in the car seat... she was in the back behind the passenger seat."
"Once I grabbed the little girl out, I saw [the mother], she began to climb out her window," Robinson continued.
At this point, Robinson said other bystanders and lifeguards had arrived and helped rescue the 3-year-old and the mother from the sinking car, as he carried the two older children to safety.