Bail set at $1.2 million for pregnant mom who drove van into Daytona Beach surf with 3 kids inside

Sheriff's investigators: Ebony Wilkerson locked windows & doors and told her horrified children, ages 3, 9, & 10, she was 'taking them to a better place' before she jumped out

Ebony Wilkerson, accused of driving van into Daytona surf to drown her kids appears in court / Headline Surfer®YouTube uploads / first video by AP / second video by Simon Besmer / 
Ebony Wilkerson, 32 and pregnant, is shown here at first apperance Saturday at the Volusia County Branch Jail courtroom in Daytona Beach before County Judge Shirley Green where she was ordered held on $1 million bail  on three counts of attempted first-degree murder of her three children, ages 3, 9, & 10. According to a Sheriff's Office arrest affidavit, the South Carolina woman purposely drove her minivan into the Daytona surf Tuesday afternoon. A rescuer was able to get inside through a window that wasn't closed all the way and the kids were carried safely onto shore by Beach Patrol personnel and a couple of bystanders. The woman's sister told cops her sister was trying to get away from her abusive husband and that she was hearing demons when she drove from her home state to Daytona Beach.

Ebony Wilkerson outside as water rushes into van / Headline Surfer®1st 2 kids rescued / Headline Surfer®Second child rescued from van in Daytona surf / Headline Surfer®Stills of the rescue: First pic: Wilkerson jumps out and leaves her three kids inside before rescuers get to them. Middle pic: Two older kids are rescued first. Right pic: The youngest child is rescued from the van in the surf.

By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As she drove her minivan into the rough ocean surf at Daytona Beach, 32-year-old Ebony Wilkerson locked the doors of her 2012 Honda Odyssey, put up the windows and told her three frightened children --ages 3,9, & 10 -- to close their eyes and go to sleep. 

The pregnant South Carolina woman then ignored their horrified pleas for help as the foamy salt water rushed in, Volusia County Sheriff’s investigators learned, insisting that she was taking herself and her three children to “a safer place.”

Then she jumped into the surf and left them inside the minivan as water continued rushing in -- the kids left inside and the youngest child strapped in a baby seat in back with the middle child before all hree were rescued by Beach Patrol and bystanders near the Silver Beach approach just before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The story, which made national headlines after a raw video of the event on YouTube went viral, saw a judge hand down one of the largest bail amounts this morning in Volusia County history for a South Carolina woman's freedom -- $1.2 million -- when she was presented at the branch jail courtroom in Daytona Beach and where she remained this afternoon.

Ebony Wilkerson stares throughout her presentment in the courtroom Saturday morning at the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach on charges of attempted first-degree murder after allegedly purposely driving her minivan into the Daytona surf Tuesday afternoon with her three kids left inside after she jumped out.

The story, which made national headlines after a raw video of the event on YouTube went viral, saw a judge hand down one of the largest bail amounts this morning in Volusia County history for a South Carolina woman's freedom -- $1.2 million -- when she was presented at the branch jail courtroom in Daytona Beach and where she remained this afternoon.

 

 

Concluding that it was an intentional act designed to kill her children, Sheriff’s investigators arrested Wilkerson on Friday on three counts of attempted first degree-degree murder and three counts of child abuse.

Wilkerson, 32, was arrested at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, where she had been taken after the rescue of her kids for a mental health evaluation. After investigators finish processing her, Wilkerson was booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach and held without bond.  She was presented in court at the branch jail where she was ordered held without bail by County Judge Shirley Green. 

Volusia County Beach Safety officers responded to the initial incident and teamed up with several beachgoers to rescue the children -- a 3-year-old girl, 9-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl. While at the hospital, one of the children said, “Mom tried to kill us.”

The oldest child told beach officers that her mother took them to the beach “so we could die.”

On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office was brought in to assume the lead role in the investigation. The agency made arrangements to have the two oldest children interviewed so investigators could get a more detailed account of what had taken place. Those interviews described a harrowing ordeal inside the minivan.

One of the children said that Wilkerson had locked the doors, put the windows up and then drove into the surf, saying she was doing it to “keep all of us safe.” The oldest child grabbed the steering wheel and unsuccessfully tried to steer the vehicle away from the water.

One of the children said that Wilkerson had locked the doors, put the windows up and then drove into the surf, saying she was doing it to “keep all of us safe.” The oldest child grabbed the steering wheel and unsuccessfully tried to steer the vehicle away from the water.

During an interview with a Sheriff’s investigator, a witness who helped with the rescue reported seeing a child on Wilkerson’s lap and the two were fighting for control of the steering wheel.

One of the children pushed the power button to lower the windows and the children started screaming for help. Their yelling attracted bystanders, and when they approached the vehicle, Wilkerson told them everyone was O.K.

But the children were screaming that their mother was trying to kill them. By the time the vehicle stopped, the ocean water was rushing into the minivan and it was quickly filling up.

Wilkerson then jumped out and left her children inside the vehicle. The two older children were pulled to safety first and then, after they reported that their younger sister was still in the vehicle, the toddler was rescued through the minivan’s rear hatch.

According to a witness, during the rescue one of the beach safety officers had to fend off Wilkerson, who was grabbing at the officer and trying to stop him from entering the vehicle. Sheriff’s investigators also interviewed a family member, who said that Wilkerson was in an abusive relationship and that she had come to Florida with her children to get away from her husband. The relative also said that she had no history of mental illness, but that she was hearing demons.

According to a witness, during the rescue one of the beach safety officers had to fend off Wilkerson, who was grabbing at the officer and trying to stop him from entering the vehicle. Sheriff’s investigators also interviewed a family member, who said that Wilkerson was in an abusive relationship and that she had come to Florida with her children to get away from her husband. The relative also said that she had no history of mental illness, but that she was hearing demons.

“Ebony Wilkerson acted with premeditated design to kill her three children,” investigators concluded in the charging affidavit.

After consulting with the State Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s investigators presented the results of their investigation to Judge Green, who signed the warrant late Thursday night for Wilkerson’s arrest. She was arrested at 11:05 a.m. Friday morning after being released from Halifax.

Previous Coverage:
Beach Patrol: South Carolina pregnant woman drives van into Daytona Beach surf with 3 kids leading to rescues
Posted Tue, 2014-03-04 23:05

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Story on attempted drowning in surf trending in Google news directories / Headline Surfer®The Headline Surfer® story on the first appearance for the South Carolina woman accused of trying to drown her kids by driving her minivan into the Daytona Beach surf shot to the top of the Google News Directories for Daytona Beach just before 2 p.m. Saturday as shown here in this screenshot.
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Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.