March 8, 2014 in Nation/World

Bystanders save children from van driven into sea

Witness says pregnant mom ‘possessed’
Michael Schneider Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Lifeguards and bystanders rescue children from a minivan that their mother, Ebony Wilkerson, 32, drove into the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
(Full-size photo)

ORLANDO, Fla. – After she drove her minivan into the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, authorities say a pregnant South Carolina woman tried to call off bystanders hustling to rescue her three screaming children from the water that was rushing in through the windows.

Ebony Wilkerson, who was charged with attempted murder Friday, said “everyone was OK” and left the van with her children inside, an affidavit said. The bystanders and beach safety officers, paying no mind to her urgings, pulled the two girls and a boy, ages 3, 9 and 10, through the windows Tuesday on Daytona Beach.

Later, Wilkerson denied trying to hurt her children, telling investigators she was driving too close to the water, “and the waves pulled her in,” according to the charging affidavit.

Her children told investigators another story.

“Mom tried to kill us,” they told detectives, according to the document. “Mom is crazy.”

Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said the 32-year-old Wilkerson, of North Charleston, S.C., has been charged with three counts each of first-degree attempted murder and child abuse. She was in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office after being hospitalized for a mental evaluation since dunking the van into the surf.

The children told authorities they had come to Florida from South Carolina earlier in the week to escape their father. They described a history of violence between their parents, and they said their mother had been “acting crazy and speaking to Jesus” since they had come to stay with Wilkerson’s sister in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The children said that while driving south on the beach, their mother pointed at the ocean, locked the doors, rolled up the electric windows and then jerked the steering wheel, sending the minivan into the waves.

One of the children asked her what she was doing, and she said: “I am keeping us all safe,” according to the affidavit. The boy tried to wrestle the steering wheel away from Wilkerson.

“She told them to close their eyes and go to sleep. She was trying to take them to a better place,” Johnson said at a news conference.

A child also lowered the windows and the siblings yelled for help, attracting the bystanders.

“I’ve got to do this,” Wilkerson told bystander Stacy Robinson as he attempted to intervene, according to the affidavit.

One of the rescuers, Tim Tesseneer, said Wilkerson’s eyes were wide open and she looked “possessed.” Wilkerson tried to prevent a beach safety officer from entering the vehicle to rescue the toddler who was the last to be removed from the minivan, Tesseneer told detectives.

The children are with the Department of Children and Families.

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