DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Officials say Daytona Beach police officers stopped a pregnant South Carolina woman shortly before she drove a minivan carrying her three children into the Atlantic Ocean.
Police Chief Mike Chitwood says 31-year-old Ebony Wilkerson's sister had called police Tuesday, concerned about her sibling's mental state. Chitwood said Wednesday that when his officers later stopped Wilkerson's black Honda Odyssey, she expressed fear that her husband would be coming to Florida to harm her and her children. He says the officers reported she seemed lucid and the children appeared to be safe.
Two hours later, Wilkerson drove into the ocean.
Bystanders and officers helped pull Wilkerson and her children - ages 3, 9 and 10 - from their minivan.
Several bystanders ran into the water alongside the van, trying to get the driver to stop. The van eventually came to a halt.
Tim Tesseneer, of North Carolina, was one of the rescuers.
"He said, I think it was the little boy said, 'please help us, our mom's trying to kill us'," Tesseneer recalled. "And when he said that, I just, I lost all feeling, and I could think about was, 'we're getting the kids out, no matter what'."
With the help of the bystanders, beach safety officers were able to remove two girls and a boy, including a toddler who was strapped into a booster seat.
Tesseneer said the children's mother just wandered off while the children were recovered.
"She wouldn't speak to nobody,"Tesseneer said. "She didn't speak to the cops, she didn't speak to lifeguards."
Ebony Wilkerson's sister told police she was concerned about her sister's mental state, Chitwood said.
"Her sister had called dispatch and told them that she (Wilkerson) had been talking about demons that day before she left the house," Chitwood said.
Chitwood said Wilkerson went to Halifax Health Medical Center on Monday to voluntarily check herself but then decided against it and walked out.
The children were turned over to welfare authorities. The Volusia County Sheriff's Office says Wilkerson was undergoing a mental evaluation.