Mother who drove van full of kids into ocean, set to be in court Monday

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - WFTV learned the mother accused of trying to kill her three children will be in court Monday for a dependency hearing.

A judge set bond for Ebony Wilkerson on Saturday days after the pregnant mother drove her minivan into the ocean with her children inside.

Her bond was set for $1.2 million and she immediately tried to dispute the bond amount.

“That is too much. That doesn’t make sense,” she told the judge.

As she was taken back to jail she was heard saying, "It doesn’t make sense," over and over again.

In the court house lobby family members refused to comment on questions from reporters, but Wilkerson's public defender said he will try to have Wilkerson's bond lowered.

“My intent will be to try and get a bond reduction hearing set sometime at the court’s earliest convenience,” said Wilkerson’s public defender, Jim Purdy.

A man who was with the family in the court urged people to be sympathetic.

“You need to have some type of sympathy knowing the family is going through something,” he said.

On Friday Wilkerson was charged with attempted first-degree murder, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office said.

As the 32-year-old drove her minivan full of her children -- ages 3, 9 and 10 -- into the rough ocean surf, she locked the doors of the van, put up the windows and told her three frightened children to "close their eyes and go to sleep," authorities said.

During a news conference Friday, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office said Wilkerson, who is nearly 30 weeks pregnant, has also been charged with child abuse.

"She tried to stop someone from going into the vehicle. That's one of the reasons you have a premeditated first-degree murder," said Johnson.

One of the children told authorities Wilkerson drove into the surf, saying she was doing it to “keep all of us safe.”

The oldest child grabbed the steering wheel and unsuccessfully tried to steer the vehicle away from the water, authorities said.

"It's a very disappointing thing because you are supposed to protect your children," Johnson said.

During an interview with a sheriff’s investigator, a witness who helped with the rescue reported seeing a child on Wilkerson’s lap and said the two were fighting for control of the steering wheel.

One of the children pushed the power button to lower the windows and the children started screaming for help.

By the time the vehicle stopped, witnesses said the ocean water was rushing into the minivan and the vehicle was quickly filling up.

When lifeguards and beachgoers ran to the van to help, Wilkerson told them everything was OK, authorities said, but she did not mention that her children were still in the car.

Lifeguards and good Samaritans, however, heard the children screaming that their mother was trying to kill them and were able to safely rescue them.

Ocoee resident Stacy Robinson said Tuesday he could hear the children screaming as the car went into the water.

"They were just screaming to the top of their lungs, 'Help, help, help,'" said Robinson.

One witness said that beach safety officers had to fend Wilkerson off during the rescue because she was grabbing at the officer and trying to stop him from entering the vehicle.

The children were taken to the hospital for evaluation, telling authorities, “Mom tried to kill us."

The oldest child told officers that her mother took them to the beach “so we could die.”

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office said the children were turned over to the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Officials said on the same day Wilkerson drove her van into the water her sister had called 911 because Wilkerson talked about demons she heard in her head.

Channel 9 learned that Wilkerson had recently filed a police report alleging her husband, Lutful Ronjon, had assaulted her.  Authorities in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said Wilkerson filed the report March 1, saying her husband assaulted her while they were vacationing there.

Lutful’s lawyer sent WFTV a statement saying, “The domestic violence allegations concerning Mr. Ronjon were baseless and are the result of extreme mental illness.”

Volusia County investigators said they expected to question Ronjon and he was supposed to be in Florida Thursday but he hasn't shown up.

They said a judge will ultimately decide if he gets custody of the children.

"You want to go into it all the way to look at it to make sure that what you're doing is the correct thing, that you're doing the correct thing for the children, the mother and for everybody involved," said Johnson.