Mom accused of driving kids into ocean to stay in hospital

Judge holds off on decision at bond reduction hearing for Ebony Wilkerson

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter, Michelle Dendy - Web Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A judge did not rule at a hearing on Monday if the pregnant South Carolina mother, who deputies say drove a van with her three children locked inside into the Daytona Beach surf, will have her bond dropped and placed under the care of a psychiatrist at Halifax Hospital.

Ebony Wilkerson, 32, is being held on $1.2 million bail and was attempting to get her bond reduced or removed entirely. She is charged with three counts of attempted murder and three counts of child abuse.

According to Volusia County Sheriff's deputies, one of the children said that Wilkerson, who is 28 weeks pregnant, locked the doors of the minivan, rolled up the windows and drove into the ocean, saying she was doing it to "keep all of us safe."

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.

Wilkerson told investigators she was trying to get away from her abusive husband.

Wilkerson's public defender James Purdy said on Monday that he is requesting to transfer Wilkerson to the general mental health unit at Halifax Hospital, where she will be under psychiatric care.

Currently, Purdy said Wilkerson is being held in a solitary part of the psychiatric unit of the hospital with 1 bed, 2 guards, and no one else in her room.

Purdy argued that if Wilkerson were under the direct care of Dr. James Moore, a psychiatrist at the hospital, in a friendlier setting, he could properly evaluate her and even begin treating her.

Moore told the judge he does not believe Wilkerson is suicidal.

"At such time that Dr. Moore feels it's appropriate to be released then at that point the original bond would kick back in and we could have a full bond hearing at that time," said Purdy.

Attorneys revealed in court on Monday that Wilkerson is now accused of trying to harm her unborn child.

Volusia County State Attorney R.J. Larizza said the reason Wilkerson was transferred from the jail to the hospital last week is because the pregnant mother was caught punching herself in the stomach.

"Isn't it true that the allegation is she was beating her stomach with a fist while she's seven months pregnant and that was the reason she was Baker Acted and brought back to the facility?" asked Larizza of Moore.

Wilkerson's attorneys contended that the reason she hurt herself is because of how she was treated at the jail.

"What happens when you put someone with a mental condition with no clothes, no blanket, 72 degrees, in a concrete cell with a small window and two people looking at you?" countered Assistant Public Defender Craig Dyer.

"We can't ignore the facts," said Larizza, pointing out that Wilkerson is charged with attempted murder. "And let's not forget that Ms. Wilkerson is pregnant, and there's a child she's carrying that is extremely vulnerable. This child is helpless. What Ms. Wilkerson drinks, eats, what she does can have a significant impact upon that child."

The judge said she will not make a ruling until another hearing on March 25 at 11 a.m., where the defense will attempt to present examples and show precedent for asking that Wilkerson be moved out of a solitary room and into the care of Moore.

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