Ebony Wilkerson, the woman who made international news in 2014 when she drove her minivan packed with kids into the rolling surf in Daytona Beach, was released on Friday from nearly all of her remaining court-ordered supervision.
But Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano ordered that SMA Healthcare randomly check with Wilkerson’s doctors in South Carolina to ensure that she continues taking her long-lasting Abilify injections and stays out of legal trouble.
“I don’t want to minimize your efforts,” Zambrano said. “I think everyone recognizes you have done very, very well and that you have improved in terms of insight to your medical issues and that you have done everything possible to correct them."
The 40-year-old Wilkerson, who appeared by Zoom, nodded her head as the judge spoke about her gaining insight.
But Zambrano said that people with mental illness take medications which make them feel better. Then they sometimes think they don’t need the medication and stop taking them.
Zambrano said that he wanted to keep checking on Wilkerson so that if she stopped taking her medication or some other problem occurred, she could be summoned to a hearing or taken into custody if necessary.
“I want to release some of the burden on you, but at the same time I’m not ready to let you go free completely without any further supervision,” Zambrano said.
Wilkerson said little during the hearing, except for responding to the judges questions about who her medical providers were in South Carolina. A Christmas tree could be seen behind her and a teenage boy at one time came into camera view briefly but said nothing.
Wilkerson's 2014 arrest in Daytona Beach
Wilkerson has been in custody or under supervision since March 4, 2014, when she drove her minivan into rough, rolling surf near the Silver Beach Avenue approach.
Wilkerson was pregnant at the time and inside the van with her were her two daughters, ages 10 and 3 at the time, and her son, 9 at the time. The children could be heard screaming as waves rocked the van and people ran to rescue them.
Everyone survived and Wilkerson subsequently gave birth at Halifax Health Medical Center while she was in the custody at the Volusia County Branch Jail.
At a court hearing before Circuit Judge Leah Case in December 2014, Wilkerson testified that she was thinking God was with her and that her children needed a cleansing when she drove into the surf.
"I just kept going, kept following the Holy Spirit," Wilkerson said. "I was following the Holy Spirit wherever it went.”
Wilkerson also said that she did not realize that day that her children could have been harmed by her driving into the surf. She said she was not trying to hurt them.
A psychiatrist for the state testified that Wilkerson had a schizoaffective disorder.
Judge Case found Wilkerson not guilty by reason of insanity to three counts of felony child abuse and then committed her to a state psychiatric hospital.
Wilkerson was released from the state psychiatrist hospital to a transitional facility only to get in trouble again when she stopped taking her medication in May 2016.
But during the hearing on Friday, a psychiatrist testifying for the state noted she had been compliant for the past four years.
Assistant State Attorney Kevin Sullivan said Wilkerson was doing well, but he still would like to monitor that she is taking her injectable medication at least for some period of time.
A psychological expert for the state, Will Meadows, testified that Wilkerson has been doing the best since he became involved in the case shortly after her arrest. He praised Wilkerson’s progress and said she was at “low risk.”
“She’s definitely improved considerably,” Meadows said. “She’s done everything that’s been required of her. My main concern is she does have a history of getting off her meds.”
Wilkerson’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jay Crocker, had asked the court to end its jurisdiction in the case. He said that Wilkerson’s own psychologist, who has been treating her for 4.5 years, said she believes Wilkerson can be freed from conditional release. He said that SMA forensic case managers also agreed that she could be released.
Zambrano did not go that far, but did reduce supervision. SMA will no longer have to complete regular reports about Wilkerson.
Instead, health officials will randomly check in with her doctors, not Wilkerson, to ensure she is taking her medications and staying out of trouble.
“This relieves some of the burden that she has, lets her go on with her life,” Zambrano said. “But we are going to be monitoring her behind the scenes. In a couple of years, we can look at it again.”
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Ebony Wilkerson, drove van with kids into Daytona surf, mostly freed