Investigators believe the Horry County sheriff’s deputies who were rescued from a van in which two mental-health patients drowned Tuesday night ignored a barricade on a flooded road, the sheriff said.
Stephen Flood, a 10-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, and Joshua Bishop, a six-year veteran, escaped the van after it encountered floodwaters near U.S. Highway 76 and Pee Dee Island Road in Marion County.
“It can be assumed he did” drive around a barricade, Sheriff Phillip Thompson said, adding that investigators want to know why the deputies decided to disregard the safety measure.
Flood and Bishop have been placed on administrative leave, Thompson said.
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The women who died have been identified by the Marion County coroner as Nicolette Green, 43, of Myrtle Beach, and Wendy Newton, 45, of Shallotte, N.C.
The deputies were transporting Green and Newton based on court orders from the staff at Waccamaw Center for Mental Health and a mental-health center in Loris, Thompson said. They were headed to facilities in Darlington and Lancaster.
Neither woman had been charged with a crime.
“We get an order to transport to a facility, that’s what we do,” Thompson said.
Green’s mother declined to speak to a reporter Wednesday but said, “It’s just a tragedy.”
Thompson said he did not think Green and Newton were in restraints when the van hit the floodwaters. He said it’s typical for deputies to transport mental-health patients, and restraints aren’t used if the patients aren’t a threat.
Thompson said he wasn’t sure what prevented the deputies from opening the van’s rear door to save the women. It could have been water pressure or the way the van was resting against a guard rail, he said.
The deputies waited on top of the van until rescuers arrived. It took about 45 minutes for emergency crews to find the van, the sheriff said.
Bishop and Flood went to the hospital for treatment.
Crews did not recover the bodies of Green and Newton on Tuesday night. First responders decided not to continue rescue operations at the scene because of the conditions, Thompson said.
Recovery were underway Wednesday, said Thom Berry, a spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. The two victims were recovered on Wednesday evening. The bodies of Green and Newton will be taken to Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston for autopsies.
SLED, the South Carolina Highway Patrol and the Horry County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the incident.
Five deaths in sheriff’s office care
The drowning deaths are the fifth deaths under the Horry County Sheriff’s Office’s purview this year.
A 46-year-old man died in an apparent suicide at J. Reuben Long Detention Center. Then a 67-year-old woman died in early June from natural causes. In March, Christopher Bennett died after eating drugs and suffering medical issues, a SLED investigation found.
Thompson said he was concerned with the five deaths, but he said those at the detention center were different.
“This is the first time ever we had an event like this,” Thompson said.