Mullins, SC – Two Horry County deputies were charged in a Marion County courtroom on Friday with the deaths of two mental health patients who drowned in the back of a police transport van during Hurricane Florence.
The Category 4 storm stalled over the Carolinas in September of 2018, swamping the areas with flooding and destruction.
During the storm on Sept. 18, 2018, Horry County Deputies Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop loaded two mental health patients into a sheriff’s department transport van for a court-ordered trip to a mental facility in another county, FOX News reported.
Before the deputies left the jail, a supervisor provided them with safe routes to drive to transport the two women in their custody because their usual routes had been closed down due to flooding.
Affidavits said that a fellow transport officer had warned Deputies Flood and Bishop that their usual route through Nichols was impassable, The Post and Courier reported.
However, with Deputy Flood at the wheel, they ignored the detour instructions and instead headed straight into a flooded area.
The pair of deputies skipped two different warning points where they could have turned around and gone back to a safe route, according to The Post and Courier.
Instead, they had S.C. National Guardsmen open up a barricade to let them onto a closed roadway.
Initially, the floodwaters on Route 76 were shallow, but then the water got deeper, stalling out the engine, and suddenly the van was swept away by the water.
The Post and Courier reported that the van was stopped by a guardrail and 29-year-old Deputy Bishop was able to escape and help 66-year-old Deputy Flood out, as well.
The patients they were transporting in the back of the van, 45-year-old Wendy Newton and 43-year-old Nicolette Green, were trapped in a locked cage inside the van with the main door blocked.
There was testimony on record that Deputy Bishop was able to open the back door of the transport vehicle, but he did not have a key to open the door of the interior cage, The Post and Courier reported.
That’s when the van shifted and slipped into a hole caused by the washed-out road.
The deputies stood on the roof of the van until rescuers arrived by boat to save them, according to The Post and Courier.
The bodies of both women were recovered by divers the next day. It took another week before authorities were able to retrieve the sunken van.
After the incident, on Oct. 24, 2018, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office fired both Flood and Bishop for misconduct, and the State Law Enforcement Division investigated.
The state alleged the two deputies had recklessly ignored warnings to avoid “clearly dangerous” floodwaters, prompting South Carolina lawmakers to reconsider how mental health patients are handled in their state, The Post and Courier reported.
Neither woman who died was a convicted criminal. Both had voluntarily gone for mental health assistance and were being transferred to other facilities via the statutory process of transport.
Flood and Bishop were each charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison if they are convicted.
Although Bishop was not driving, 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements said he “had a duty” to stop Flood from driving through floodwaters, The Post and Courier reported.
Magistrate Cheryl Graham set bail at $30,000 for Flood, and $10,000 for Bishop, and both men were released on Friday after posting bail.