The Volusia County Sheriff said no charges have been filed after rescuers helped pull members of a South Carolina family from their minivan after it became submerged in the Atlantic surf on Florida’s Daytona Beach.
According to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, a minivan with a South Carolina tag was spotted driving recklessly along the beach near the Silver Beach Avenue approach.
The van was headed southbound in the surf, parallel to the shore, before the driver turned into the ocean, into approximately 3 to 4 feet of water, deputies said.
Beach safety officers and beachgoers rushed to help as the van floated into the swells, almost completely submerged, deputies said. The van eventually came to a stop and three children and the mom were rescued safely.
Deputies said two girls and a boy, including a toddler who was strapped into a booster seat were taken by ambulance to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach along with their mother. Deputies said officers towed the van ashore by rope.
Sheriff Ben Johnson said the mother, who is from Cross, SC, was still in the hospital and the incident was still under investigation on Wednesday. The children in the car were 3, 9 and 12 years old, according to the sheriff. He said the woman is also pregnant.
Beach Safety Capt. Tammy Marris said the woman was already driving on the beach, where cars are allowed. One of the beachgoers who helped pull the children to safety was Tim Tesseneer, of Rutherfordton, NC.
Tesseneer was on vacation with his family in their car when they saw what was happening. That’s when he ran to help.
“The kid in the backseat was just screaming, ‘Please help, please help, my mom’s trying to kill us,'” Tesseneer said.
He said the mother appeared dazed.
“She looked back at us with this – blank, crazy looking stare and all she said was ‘we’re OK, we’re gonna be fine,'” he said. “She turned hard left straight into the ocean.”
Between the pounding surf and the uncontrollable vehicle, Tesseneer said it was tough but they were able to get the three children out safe.
Other witnesses told Orlando media outlets they could hear kids yelling for help as the van plunged deeper into the water.
“When they got up to the car and started to open the door she immediately went farther, deeper into the ocean,” said witness Donna Pratt. “And then when she got so that she was facing the ocean and the waves were coming stronger I saw her bail right out the window and the kids were still in the car.”
The mother had been in contact with police on Tuesday after a call from a family member, Johnson said. He said police determined there was nothing they could do at that time about the situation.
Several officers interviewed the woman and she said she was headed to an abuse shelter before the vehicle was driven into the ocean, according to the sheriff.
Deputies said they are continuing to investigate the incident and have placed the children into the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families until their investigation is complete. They said the mother is undergoing a mental health evaluation.