The woman who drove her minivan into the Atlantic Ocean, endangering her three children until rescuers charged into the water to save them, has been charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, authorities in Florida said Friday.
The woman, Ebony Wilkerson, was also charged with three counts of aggravated child abuse, Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said.
“You’re supposed to protect your children at all costs,” he said. “You’re not supposed to be trying to kill your children.”
Johnson said that an investigation had found that the woman tried to stop the rescuers from helping the children, and that her son was at one time trying to fight her for the steering wheel.
He said that Wilkerson told the children during the episode to “close their eyes and go to sleep, she was taking them to a better place.”
The woman was removed Friday from a hospital, where she had been undergoing mental health evaluation, and was on her way to jail, the sheriff said.
Accounts that have surfaced from the days before the van went into the water suggest that Wilkerson was in deep distress.
A report from police in Myrtle Beach, S.C., shows that Wilkerson called 911 on Saturday to report that her husband, Lutful Ronjon, held her down and raped her. Police said they interviewed the husband but filed no immediate charges. Police said Friday that they are still investigating.
On Sunday, on her way to Florida, Wilkerson stopped to talk to police in North Charleston, S.C., and told them about an alleged rape, and that was scared and believed she was being followed. An officer offered to take her to a domestic abuse shelter, but she declined and asked for a police escort to the city limits.
On Tuesday in Florida, Wilkerson’s sister called 911 to say she was worried. She told the dispatcher that Wilkerson was having a psychotic episode — “talking about Jesus and that there’s demons in my house and that I’m trying to control her.”
Police in Daytona Beach tracked her down, pulled her over and later wrote in a report that Wilkerson appeared to be “suffering from some form of mental illness.” They let her go. Two and a half hours later, the minivan went into the ocean.
Johnson, the sheriff, said that investigators had not uncovered “any indication of any mental illness at any time.”