Mother drives minivan with kids into sea in Daytona Beach

A minvan carrying a mother and three children was swept into the Daytona Beach surf Tuesday, prompting beachgoers to rush through the 4-foot waves to rescue the passengers as the vehicle took on water and the youngsters screamed for help. 

The mother was undergoing a mental health evaluation, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday. The children, ages 3, 9 and 10, were being cared for by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Video taken by a tourist shows the black Honda Odyssey in about 4 feet of water about 5 p.m. Tuesday. As it is smacked by waves, the van bobs, twists and is “nearly submerged” under water, authorities said.

Beach safety officers and beachgoers are seen rushing to pull from the minivan a boy, two girls and the woman, opening the trunk to help get inside. One of the children, a toddler, was strapped in a car seat. None of the children suffered serious injuries. All three and the mother were taken to a hospital, the Sheriff’s Department said.

A beach patrol spokeswoman told reporters Tuesday that the woman was pregnant and "incoherent."

[Updated 1:05 p.m. PST, March 5: The Sheriff's Department declined to identify the 31-year-old woman, but Sheriff Ben Johnson confirmed that she is pregnant. He said at a news conference late Wednesday that a family member called Daytona police on Tuesday, asking officers to check on the woman. When police reached her, the woman told them she was headed to an abuse shelter, but they found no reason to take her into custody, Johnson said.

The woman, who was still in a hospital Wednesday afternoon, remained under investigation, authorities said.]

The van, with a South Carolina license plate, was eventually pulled out with the help of a tow rope.

Authorities said a beach safety officer first spotted the van driving recklessly on the sand near the Silver Beach Avenue ramp onto the beach.

From November through April, driving and parking on Daytona Beach’s shoreline is legal from sunrise to sunset. Most of the year, driving onto the beach costs $5 and drivers pay at toll booths on the ramp, sheriff's spokesman Brandon Haught told the Los Angeles Times.

Tim Tesseneer of Rutherfordton, N.C., told WESH-TV that he was one of the first people to reach the minivan. He said that one of the children was screaming for help. 

On Wednesday, child services investigators were checking the family’s history, including any verified reports of abuse. They planned to present a case to a judge sometime this week, Department of Children and Families spokesman John Harrell told The Times.

Harrell said the family lives in South Carolina.

“We’re continuing to work to ensure the children’s safety and provide them whatever they need,” Harrell said.