Two female mental health patients in Marion County, South Carolina, lost their lives after the law enforcement vehicle transporting them from Conway to Darlington was overtaken by floodwaters during Hurricane Florence.
Horry County Sheriff’s Office was transferring 45-year-old Windy Newton of Shallotte, North Carolina, and 43-year-old Nicolette Green of Myrtle Beach to a mental health facility outside of the county when the van got swept away in flood.
Although the two deputies involved in the incident, identified as Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop, were able to get out of the vehicle and save themselves, both women drowned in the Pee Dee River – raising questions about why the officers chose that particular route in the first place.
As several publications pointed out, the vehicle was traveling west on Highway 76, which has been closed from both ends due to rising water level.
Many believe the officers drove around the barrier placed by the law enforcement and rescue officials to keep people off the flooded roadway.
“It hasn't been confirmed to me that they did [drive around barrier],” Sheriff Phillip Thompson told reporters during a press conference. “But here's my question. There are barriers there. It can be assumed that he did. Once we find out for sure we need to ascertain why they did.”
He also clarified since neither of the women were inmates, they had been not shackled or tied.
The Horry County Sheriff’s Office also issued a press release to explain how the officers reportedly tried to rescue the women.
“The two deputies attempted to extricate the persons being transported,” it said. “Despite persistent and ongoing efforts, floodwater rose rapidly and the deputies were unable to open the doors to reach the individuals inside the van. High water rescue teams arrived and were able to rescue the two deputies from the top of the van. At this time, the recovery effort is ongoing, and the transportation vehicle cannot be removed due to rising waters and dangerous conditions.”
The bodies of both victims have since been found.
While the authorities are investigating the tragic incident and the officers involved have been placed on an administrative leave, the families of victims are still demanding answers.
“Why did the deputies drive through flooded waters?” read a statement issued by Green’s family. “What happened to 'Turn Around. Don’t Drown'? Gross negligence has robbed two families of their loved ones. We want those who are responsible to be held accountable. These women were not inmates or criminals. They were women who voluntarily sought help. They trusted the hospitals and the sheriff deputies with their lives and that trust was abused. We want answers.”
State Rep. Justin Bamberg, an attorney who often represents families of those injured or killed by police officers, also shared similar sentiments during an interview with the Associated Pres.
“If that road is in an area where it is a flood risk, why were they driving on that road anyway?” he asked. “People need to know exactly how it happened. It makes it seem like someone took a very unnecessary risk.”
Although it is unclear if officer behind the wheel of the unfortunate wheel did drive around the barrier despite the weather conditions, the fact remains the two lives lost in the incident can never be returned.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters/Eduardo Munoz