A judge set bail at $1.2 million on Saturday for a pregnant woman facing attempted murder charges for driving a minivan carrying her three young children into the surf off a Florida beach, according to jail records.
Ebony Wilkerson, 32, has been charged with three counts of first-degree attempted murder and three counts of child abuse in the incident, which occurred on Tuesday at Daytona Beach.
A tourist's video captured lifeguards and bystanders rushing to help pull the children, ages 3, 9 and 10, out of the van as it was being buffeted by waves in the Atlantic Ocean.
The children had lowered the windows to scream for help, and the oldest child could be seen trying to wrest control of the steering wheel from her mother, investigators said.
Wilkerson got out of the van and then tried to block a beach safety officer from getting to the children, a witness told investigators.
Wilkerson had come to Florida three days before the episode to escape an abusive marriage, according to the arrest affidavit.
The children told investigators their mother had been acting "crazy" since they arrived in Florida, and Wilkerson's sister tried twice to get mental health treatment for her the day before she drove the van into the water, the affidavit said.
Officers from Daytona Beach Police who evaluated Wilkerson before the incident decided that she did not qualify for involuntary mental health confinement, the affidavit said.
Wilkerson had not posted bail and remained in custody on Saturday afternoon.
Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said Wilkerson told authorities she was not trying to hurt the children. According to a sheriff office's report, the children told investigators "Mom tried to kill us."
The oldest child, a girl, fought with her mother over control of the steering wheel to try to turn the minivan away from the water, the report said.
Wilkerson was arrested on Friday after a mental health evaluation. The children have been placed in state custody, Johnson said.
"You're supposed to protect your children at all costs," Johnson told reporters. "You're not supposed to try to kill your children."
After driving the car into the ocean, Wilkerson tried to block beach safety officers from getting into the minivan to rescue the children, according to the sheriff's report.
The 10-year-old girl told investigators that her mother took them to the beach "so we could die," the report said.
Wilkerson locked the doors of her 2012 Honda Odyssey, closed the windows and told the children to close their eyes and go to sleep, the children told investigators.
Wilkerson ignored her children's pleas and told them they were going to a "safer place."
A witness saw the girl on her mother's lap fighting for control of the steering wheel, according to investigators.
One child pushed the power button to lower the windows and the youngsters started screaming for help. Bystanders ran over, but Wilkerson told them everyone was okay, the report said.
Wilkerson then got out of the minivan and left the children inside. Beach safety officers who started pulling the children out had to fight off Wilkerson, who was grabbing at one officer to try to keep him away from the vehicle, investigators said.
Wilkerson, her father and the two older children told authorities that Wilkerson brought her children to Florida this week to get away from an abusive marriage.
The day before the incident, Wilkerson, at her sister's request, was evaluated by police, who determined that she did not qualify for involuntary mental health commitment. The sister took her to the hospital, but Wilkerson left against the advice of medical personnel, according to the arrest affidavit.
The children told investigators she began acting "crazy" when they arrived in Florida. (Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Jonathan Allen, and Gunna Dickson)