Cops: Mom ID'd, spoke with authorities before driving van into ocean

Woman was headed to abuse shelter before incident, Daytona police say

Published On: Mar 05 2014 04:57:52 PM EST   Updated On: Mar 05 2014 09:10:52 PM EST
Ocean van rescue
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -

Volusia County authorities said the pregnant mother who drove a van with her three children into the ocean on Daytona Beach may have been trying to get away from an abusive ex.

Sheriff Ben Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday the woman, who Daytona Beach police identified as Ebony Wilkerson of South Carolina, is still in the hospital undergoing a mental evaluation and has not been questioned.

Johnson said Daytona Beach police spoke to Wilkerson hours before the incident after a family member contacted them out of concern that Wilkerson was talking about "demons."

According to the police report, Wilkerson said she was going to an abuse shelter and feared her ex-husband would find them in Florida and harm them. She also told police she was going to her "safe place."

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Police said although it appeared she was suffering from some form of mental illness, they had no reason to take her into custody. The report was taken at 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday.

"She said she was heading to an abuse shelter and at that time they could not do anything with her," Johnson said. "But then two hours later it had escalated to this."

Volusia County Beach Patrol said one of the lifeguards witnessed the van driving outside of the traffic lane near the Silver Beach approach at around 5 p.m. Tuesday, causing concern. When Beach Patrol arrived, two bystanders were already in the water trying to get the family out of the vehicle, officials said.

"When we entered the water to rescue her she was out of the van already and she was acting inappropriate," said Mark Swanson with Volusia County Beach Patrol. "She wasn't answering questions appropriately."

Beach Patrol said Wilkerson was out of the van in the water, "was acting inappropriate" and wasn't answering questions. She had paid the toll to park and drive on the beach.

The three children -- ages 3, 9 and 10 -- were rescued by onlookers from the minivan, which was being buffeted by waves as it drifted deeper into the surf Tuesday. The mother of the children escaped unharmed.

A child protection team is interviewing the children, all of whom are in the custody of the Department of Children and Families, Johnson said. Johnson said they are in the process of determining if it is a medical issue or if criminal charges are warranted.

The South Carolina family of four was initially taken to Halifax Hospital with minor injuries.