A pregnant South Carolina woman was charged Friday with three counts of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly driving her minivan into the ocean in an effort to drown her three young children, according to the Volusia County sheriff.
The dramatic incident on Florida's Daytona Beach was caught on video showing beach rangers jumping into the vehicle, driven by 32-year-old Ebony Wilkerson, and rescuing the mother and three children, ages 10, 9, and 3 years old.
Sheriff Ben Johnson quoted the children as saying Wilkerson, of South Cross, S.C., had told them to "close their eyes, she was going to take them to a better place."
Johnson said Wilkerson's son was fighting for control of the wheel as rescuers made their way into the vehicle. He said the mother also tried to prevent a rescuer from coming through the window.
The sheriff said Wilkerson "did turn directly into the surf" in an effort to submerge the minivan. He said she had locked the doors of the minivan and rolled up all the windows.
Her sister, Jessica Harrell, had called 911 hours before the incident to try to get help for Wilkerson.
"Her husband beat on her, so she came down to my house from South Carolina," Harrell said told the dispatcher. "She's talking about Jesus, that there are demons in my house, that I'm trying to control her, but I'm trying to keep them safe."
Daytona Beach police officers tracked down Wilkerson in her black Honda Odyssey and interviewed her, but had no grounds on which to detain her.
Two hours later, beach officers and good Samaritans including a North Carolina man on his first real family vacation rescued the four on Dayton's Silver Beach.
"I don't want to think about what would have happened ... and that water got a hold of that van and it just pulled it out," said Tim Tesseneer of Rutherfordton, N.C.
Volusia County officials say the outcome would have been tragic if the rescuers had been only 10 minutes later in reaching the vehicle.
Volusia County officials said Wilkerson was undergoing a mental evaluation on Friday.