Hearing set for mother accused of driving kids into ocean

Judge to weigh custody decision for children

By Erik Sandoval - Reporter , Michelle Dendy - Web Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The pregnant mom who deputies say drove her three children into the ocean will go before a judge Monday in a dependency hearing involving the custody of her kids.

[AUDIO: 911 call from SC911 call well-being check | VIDEO:  Woman drives into ocean | Charges]

Ebony Wilkerson, 32, is being held on $1.2 million bond, which a Volusia County judge set Saturday.

Wilkerson's public defender, James Purdy, told Local 6 a judge will decide if her children will stay in state custody, be placed in foster care or go to stay with relatives.

Wilkerson, 32, (pictured below) was arrested at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach on three counts of premeditated attempted first-degree murder and three counts of child abuse, Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said at a news conference.

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

Her children -- ages 3, 9 and 10 -- were not seriously injured in the incident and were rescued by beach officials and onlookers.  The children were placed in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

While at the hospital after the rescue, the children said, "Mom tried to kill us," according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.

One of the children said that Wilkerson, who is 27 weeks pregnant, locked the doors of the van, put the windows up and drove into the surf, saying she was doing it to "keep all of us safe."

"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 denied trying to harm her children, Johnson said.

The announcement came a day after Myrtle Beach police announced that Wilkerson told officers her husband sexually assaulted her while they were vacationing in Myrtle Beach.

"He beat me down and raped me," she told a 911 operator.  "Then, he was molesting my 3 year old.  He's sleeping right next to him."

Her husband said that Wilkerson assaulted him, police told Local 6 on Thursday. No arrests were made in that incident.

Wilkerson was evaluated on Thursday under the Baker Act, a law that allows authorities to involuntarily take people into custody if they seem to be a threat to themselves.

Volusia County Beach Patrol said one of the lifeguards witnessed the van driving outside the traffic lane near the Silver Beach approach around 5 p.m. Tuesday before she accelerated into the ocean.

The children were rescued by onlookers from the minivan, which was being battered by waves as it drifted deeper into the surf.

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

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

Local 6 legal analyst Luis Calderon said the judge will be considering more than just the charges and probable cause when determining if Wilkerson should be granted bond at her first appearance Saturday morning. He believes her mental state will come into play.

"If the judge feels she's a threat to the community, if she's a threat to the victims or to herself, he may not allow a bond." Calderon said.

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