Mother charged with attempted first-degree murder

UPDATE: Bond for Ebony Wilkerson was set at $1.2 million Saturday -- $300, 000 for each of the three charges of attempted first-degree murder and $100,000 for each charges of aggravated child abuse.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — "Mom tried to kill us."

That's what the children of Ebony Wilkerson told investigators at the hospital after Wilkerson drove her minivan into the ocean in Daytona Beach with her three kids inside.

Wilkerson has been charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts aggravated child abuse, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office announced Friday. VCSO said Wilkerson is 27-and-a-half weeks pregnant.

Volusia Sheriff Ben Johnson said Friday the oldest child in the car tried to grab the steering wheel from his mother and steer it away from the water. Wilkerson denies that she was trying to kill her children.

PHOTOS: Van goes into the ocean at Daytona Beach

Family members told police that 32-year-old Wilkerson, of South Carolina, was acting strange about two hours before driving the van into the ocean.

Wilkerson underwent mental health exams after Tuesday's incident, and deputies made the decision to arrest her. Johnson said the Volusia County Sheriff's Office has not been made aware of any history of mental illness for Wilkerson.

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"She told them 'close your eyes and go to sleep, mama's taking you to a better place,'" said Johnson. "She tried to stop someone from going into the vehicle," he said. "She definitely tried to kill her children from everything we've seen."

Wilkerson was arrested at 11:05 a.m. Friday morning after being released from Halifax.

According to the Myrtle Beach Police Department, Wilkerson filed an assault report against her husband three days before she drove into the ocean.

Officials said they were called to a hotel Saturday because Wilkerson said that her husband, Lutful Ronjon, had held her down and assaulted her. The couple's three children were also present in the room.

Wilkerson's husband was not arrested.

The Post and Courier in Charleston also reports Wilkerson was involved in a deadly crash in Palm Beach County in 2007. She was cited for improperly changing lanes on Interstate 95, causing another driver to crash. A passenger in that car died.

RELATED: Woman filed sex assault report, before driving in ocean

On Thursday, police said Wilkerson did not meet the requirements to be hospitalized under the Baker Act when they stopped her two hours before she drove into the ocean. Police now say that if they had known Wilkerson's family wanted her hospitalized, things may have turned out differently.

"The complaint is she's been a little off lately, she's been a victim of domestic abuse," said Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood.

Wilkerson's sister, Jessica Harrell, told police she tried to convince her sister to stay with them, but Wilkerson refused and left the home on Bishop Butts Circle against the family's wishes. Harrell called 911.

"She's talking about Jesus and that there are demons in my house and that I'm trying to control her, but I'm trying to keep them safe," Harrell said on the 911 call.

Harrell mentioned to the 911 operator that family had tried and failed to hospitalize Wilkerson Monday for mental health care, but the officers who stopped Wilkerson's black van didn't know that and when they called Harrell, she didn't mention it.

"Had we had that piece of information that the family wanted her Baker Acted or wanted her to voluntarily Baker Act herself that may have had a different spin on it," Chitwood said.

Her three children, who were in the minivan, were rescued. They remain in the custody of Florida Department of Children and Families. Once a background check is completed, officials expect to release the children to family members in the Central Florida region.

Johnson said Ronjon was scheduled to meet with Volusia investigators Friday, but at the time of the press conference he had not made contact.

According to a report from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Ronjon was arrested for battery against Wilkerson in 2005.

Wilkerson is scheduled to appear in court Saturday at 8:30 a.m.


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