Mom who drove kids into ocean charged with attempted murder

32-year-old mother arrested after undergoing mental evaluation

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The woman who drove a minivan with her three children inside into the ocean at Daytona Beach on Tuesday is being charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of child abuse, Volusia County's sheriff announced Friday.

Ebony Wilkerson, 32, drove with her three children -- ages 3, 9 and 10 -- into the ocean late Tuesday afternoon.  She was hospitalized for mental evaluation until Friday morning, when she was interviewed and arrested Friday morning. 

The children are now in the custody of the Department of Children and Families.

Sheriff Ben Johnson said that witnesses told investigators that Wilkerson intentionally drove into the surf and bystanders who ran to help said she tried to interfere with rescuing the children out of vehicle as it sank into the water.

Johnson said even her children said she was trying to kill them.

"She told them to close your eyes and go sleep.  I'm taking you all to a better place," Johnson said.  "Witnesses said her son was trying to fight her to get the steering wheel to get them out of the surf.  One of the beach officers tried to get in the window and she was trying to prevent him from getting in there."

Wilkerson had told officers her husband sexually assaulted her while they were vacationing in Myrtle Beach and she was planning to go to a domestic violence shelter.

Her husband, who has not been identified, said that Wilkerson assaulted him. No arrests were made in that incident.

Johnson said that background was considered by the state attorney's office before making the decision to charge Wilkerson.

"It's a very disappointing thing because you're supposed to protect your children at all costs," Johnson said.

Wilkerson is 27 weeks pregnant.  Her sister said that her sister was trying to escape an abusive ex-husband and was acting strange.

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

"We found no issues leading up to this that she has had any mental issues," Johnson said on Friday.

Dr. Justin D'Arienzo is a psychologist who said you can often spot delusional people, but sometimes it can be hidden.

"The problem is sometimes a person that is sometimes psychotic. Their delusion may be so goal-driven that they are hiding it from other people," said D'Arienzo.

D'Arienzo suspects it's possible Wilkerson has been suffering from an extreme form of postpartum depression.

"Less than .5 percent actually have psychosis that goes with postpartum depression," said D'Arienzo.

Channel 4 spoke with local attorney Gene Nichols. He said in complex cases like these -- where Wilkerson may not have been making rational sense -- it can take police a few days to charge her, and having her Baker Acted to a psychiatric facility can keep her locked up and safe in the meantime.

"I'm sure when they came up to the scene they determined she was having complete break from reality, and for her I'm sure it was in best interest to have her Baker Acted," said Nichols. "If she's having a break they have to ensure her health and safety, even if she's taken act that could be attempted murder."

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