Three children -- ages 3, 9 and 10 -- were rescued from a minivan that was driven by their mother into the Atlantic Ocean off Daytona Beach.
Onlookers pulled the children from the vehicle, which was being buffeted by waves as it drifted deeper into the surf Tuesday. The mother of the children, who's pregnant, escaped unharmed.
The mother was undergoing a mental health evaluation, and her children, two girls and a boy, were placed in the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families. The South Carolina family of four was initially taken to Halifax Hospital with minor injuries.
Volusia County deputies held a news conference Wednesday afternoon discussing the investigation.
Beach Safety Capt. Tammy Marris said the woman was already driving on the beach, where cars are allowed, when the vehicle entered the water.
A tourist from Montreal, Simon Besner, captured the terrifying ordeal on video, and Taylor Quintin, visiting Central Florida from Vermont, saw the whole thing from the balcony of her hotel room.
“My friend pointed out that there was a car getting really close to the beach and actually started driving on the water,” Quintin told Local 6. “I saw a kid in the back waving his arms around screaming, 'Help us! Help us!' And the car kept going deeper.”
Quintin said three bystanders quickly jumped into action.
“That's when I saw a guy from the beach run over next to the car and take out two small children and walk them back up,” Quintin said.
At one point in the video, the mother in the driver's seat hops out through a window and walks toward the shore. Bystanders and a lifeguard continued to search the back of the van while waves came over the van.
“Another guy ran out and brought a little toddler out of the car,” said Quintin.
The man carried the child back to shore, saving the child, who was strapped in a booster seat, officials said.
Volusia County Beach Patrol and the Florida Department of Children and Families are investigating the circumstances, but people who saw the incident, including Donna Pratt, can't believe it was accidental.
“When she first was drifting into the ocean, we thought maybe an accident,” Pratt told Local 6. “But when the bystanders went to help, she clearly went deeper into the ocean. She drove right toward it, so it's hard to believe it was an accident.”
A DCF official told Local 6 the agency is looking into any past cases of child neglect or abuse.
The van was towed back to shore.
Officials initially said the children were ages 5, 7 and 10.
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