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March 9, 2014

Mom drives minivan, kids into surf

ORLANDO, Fla. — A pregnant South Carolina woman pointed to the ocean, locked the doors and rolled up the windows, telling her three children she was “trying to take them to a better place” as she drove her minivan into the surf, authorities said.

Ebony Wilkerson even tried to call off bystanders hustling to rescue her screaming children from the water, saying “everyone was OK” as she left the van in the ocean, an affidavit said. Wilkerson, 32, is charged with three counts of attempted murder and three counts child abuse causing great bodily harm.

Volusia County Court Judge Shirley Green found probable cause for the charges during Wilkerson’s first appearance in court Saturday and set her bond at $1.2 million. A date for an arraignment was not released.

The bystanders and beach safety officers, paying no attention to the mother, pulled the two girls and a boy, ages 3, 9 and 10, through the windows to safety 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 Wilkerson, of North Charleston, was in the custody of the sheriff’s office after being hospitalized for a mental evaluation.

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.

The sister, Jessica Harrell, didn’t return a phone call from The Associated Press, but she was worried about Wilkerson’s mental health and called a 911 dispatcher hours before the minivan ended up in the ocean.

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