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Florida Cops Defend Handling of Ocean Rescue Case

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Police in Daytona Beach, Fla., are defending their handling of the case involving a mother who plunged a minivan filled with her three kids into the ocean — two hours after she was stopped by an officer who noted her shaky mental state.

A police spokesman told NBC News on Thursday that the department doesn’t plan to review why the officer who pulled over 32-year-old Ebony Wilkerson — and had written in his report that she appeared to be “suffering from some form of mental illness” — let her go.

Wilkerson’s sister called 911 on Tuesday asking for police to find her and check on her well-being. She said Wilkerson, who came to Florida to flee an abusive husband, was acting odd — but that she didn’t believe the children were in danger.

Before Wilkerson left her sister’s house, she was “talking about Jesus and that there’s demons in my house,” the sister told the dispatcher.

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Although the officer who found Wilkerson and pulled her over noted her behavior, she showed no signs of endangering herself or her children, police said. Wilkerson told the officer she was going to drive to a women's shelter, and police weren't required to escort her.

“When we spoke with her, she was lucid,” Police Chief Mike Chitwood said at a news conference Wednesday, after video of Wilkerson driving her black Honda Odyssey into the surf was made public. “The children were in the back seat, they were buckled in and were not in distress.”

Chitwood added that she “did not fit the criteria” to be involuntarily committed under state law.

Bystanders at the beach rushed to pull Wilkerson and her three children — two girls and a boy, ages 3, 9 and 10 — from the van as it barreled into about 3 feet of water. “Please help us. Our mom is trying to kill us!” the children screamed, according to witnesses.

Wilkerson was still undergoing a mental health evaluation Thursday, and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said they couldn’t comment on possible charges. The children were released from the hospital Wednesday and placed into the custody of the state, a spokesman confirmed.

— Erik Ortiz

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