A pregnant South Carolina woman who drove a minivan carrying her three young children into the ocean surf off Florida was charged Friday with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, though she has denied trying to harm anyone, authorities said.
Bystanders and officers helped pull 32-year-old Ebony Wilkerson and her children, ages 3, 9 and 10, from their minivan as it was almost submerged on Tuesday on Daytona Beach.
Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said Wilkerson has denied trying to hurt her children. However, the children told investigators otherwise and witnesses said she tried to keep them from rescuing them. The windows were rolled up and the doors were locked, and one of the children tried to wrestle the steering wheel away from her, Johnson said.
"She told them to close their eyes and go to sleep. She was trying to take them to a better place," Johnson said.
Wilkerson was in custody of the sheriff's office after she was taken to a hospital for mental evaluation. Her children were with the Department of Children and Families. Wilkerson faces three counts each of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, Johnson said.
"You're supposed to protect your children at all costs," Johnson said at a news conference. "You're not supposed to try to kill your children."