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Mother who drove kids into ocean off Florida needs psychiatric care: lawyer

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The lawyer for a pregnant woman who drove a minivan with her children inside into the surf off a Florida beach wants her released into the care of a hospital psychiatric ward, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

A Volusia County judge on Monday delayed a decision to allow arguments to continue at a court hearing set for March 25.

A public defender representing Ebony Wilkerson was set to argue for a reduction in her $1.2 million bond on three charges of attempted murder and three counts of child abuse.

Instead, Jim Purdy, the lawyer, told the judge that his client had been hospitalized for punching herself in the stomach. He said Wilkerson, 32, was being held naked in solitary confinement and watched by two corrections officers in a secure area at a local hospital, the newspaper reported.

Purdy did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

A tourist's video on March 4 showed lifeguards and bystanders rushing to help rescue Wilkerson and her children, ages 3, 9 and 10, as their van bobbed in the waves on Daytona Beach.

The oldest child, a girl, fought with her mother over control of the steering wheel to try to turn the minivan away from the water, a report by the Volusia County Sheriff said. The girl and the 9-year-old told investigators their mother was trying to kill them, according to the report.

Wilkerson underwent a mental health evaluation before being arrested. Wilkerson, her father and the two older children told authorities that Wilkerson brought her children to Florida from South Carolina a few days before the incident to get away from an abusive marriage.

The day before the incident, Wilkerson, at her sister's request, was evaluated by police, who determined that she did not qualify for involuntary mental health commitment.

The sister took her to the hospital, but Wilkerson left against the advice of medical personnel, according to the arrest affidavit. The children told investigators she began acting "crazy" when they arrived in Florida.

The 10-year-old girl told investigators that her mother took them to the beach "so we could die," the sheriff's report said.

Wilkerson locked the doors of her 2012 Honda Odyssey, closed the windows and told the children to close their eyes and go to sleep, the children told investigators.

Wilkerson ignored her children's pleas and told them they were going to a "safer place," the report said.

A witness saw the girl on her mother's lap fighting for control of the steering wheel, according to investigators.

Wilkerson got out of the minivan and left the children inside. Beach safety officers who started pulling the children out had to fight off Wilkerson, who was grabbing at one officer to try to keep him away from the vehicle, investigators said.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Kevin Gray and Mohammad Zargham)

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