(DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.) — A man who helped pull three children from a sinking minivan said he tried to stop the mother from driving the vehicle into rough surf on a Florida beach, but she suddenly veered away and plowed into the water.
Stacy Robinson, a sophomore at Seminole State College in Sanford, Fla., said he and his girlfriend were sitting in their car at the beach in Daytona Beach, Fla., when they saw a woman, whom police have identified as Ebony Wilkerson, 32, from Cross, S.C., driving a minivan partly in the rough surf.
“[My girlfriend] said what I thought was a joke and [I] was like, ‘No, this is real,’ because after that her son came out the window, probably about waist high, screaming for help,” Robinson said.
Robinson, 21, said he jumped out of his car and ran over to the minivan and started walking beside the vehicle, talking to the mother.
“The son was snatching at the wheel, trying to get her to come back toward the shore and I was asking, I was like, ‘What is going on, why are you driving on the water?’ I said, ‘You’re going to get in trouble…you’re not supposed to be doing this,'” Robinson said.
“All she repeated is ‘OK, We are OK, we are OK,'” Robinson said. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to get out of the water. You’re going to get in trouble. You got kids. You’re scaring them. They’re crying.’ And she said, she was like, ‘OK’ as though she was coming back out the water and took off. She sped off.”
Robinson said he then ran into the pounding waves after the minivan, which started to sink. The mother, he said, had rolled up the car windows and locked the doors as the vehicle was rocked by waves and pulled deeper into the water.
The kids — ages 3, 9 and 10 — were screaming for help.
Robinson said one of the back windows was still cracked open and he was able to reach in and open the door.
“That’s when I snatched out the boy first and the little girl,” he said. “Then I noticed the baby in the car seat… she was in the back behind the passenger seat.”
“Once I grabbed the little girl out, I saw [the mother], she began to climb out her window,” Robinson continued.
At this point, Robinson said other bystanders and lifeguards had arrived and helped rescue the 3-year-old and the mother from the sinking car, as he carried the two older children to safety.
“When I was speaking to her, her eyes were like… stretched, wide, wide open. She was saying, she was repeating she was ‘OK’… that’s when she sped off,” Robinson said.
Authorities said the mother was incoherent when they tried to speak with her and did not answer questions immediately after incident.
Police said Wednesday at a news conference that family members called them Tuesday before the mother, who is pregnant, drove her minivan into the water, indicating they were concerned about her. Police made contact with her, but said the woman told them she was going to a domestic abuse shelter, and decided not to pursue further action.
A few hours later, she drove her minivan into the water.
Other bystanders on the beach watched as rescuers raced across the sand in an attempt to stop the minivan and help save the children.
“I saw a child hanging out the window waving his hands screaming, ‘Help us, help us,'” said Taylor Quintin, 14, of Milton, Vt., who was on the beach at the time of the rescue. “The kids started screaming, ‘There’s a baby in the car’ and that’s when another bystander ran in to get the toddler…I heard one kid say, ‘Why did she do this?'”
Another bystander, Simon Besner, videotaped the dramatic rescue.
“The lifeguard went in the car to rescue the little girl, and then he was stuck himself in the car, so the other lifeguard took him back out of the car,” Besner said.
In the video, the mother staggering in the heavy surf is seen nearly dragged under the car, sucked in by the undertow.
As for the rescuers, Besner said: “They did a really nice job. They did an excellent job.”
The mother is currently hospitalized and is undergoing mental evaluation. No charges have been filed yet. The kids have been placed in the care of the child protective services, according to Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson.
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