Sheriff: Deputies were waved around barricade resulting in death of mental health patients
HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson said that the two deputies driving the van that two mental health patients drowned in were waved around a barricade by a National Guardsman.
Thompson said during a news conference on Sept. 19, the day after the women drowned, that it appeared the deputies driving a county transport van on Sept. 18 had gone around a street barricade.
More than a week later, Thompson says he is now sure that this is what happened, but that they had permission to do so from a National Guardsman who was manning the barricade.
According to WMBF News partner MyHorryNews.com, Thompson said the guardsman at the post had been instructed to allow locals and law enforcement through the post, so the deputies were sent around.
“Obviously they come upon water and they were proceeding to go through and what they did was they hit a washout and the van sunk in the water,” he said.
Thompson said he has been to the site of the incident on U.S. 76 between Marion and Nichols more than once.
He was there when they pulled the van out.
“It was sitting in a washout. I can say that because I saw it,” he said.
He believes that what happened was when the van hit the washout the water was rushing and it penned the van against a guardrail.
“It was deep,” he said.
Thompson said the accident site was a distance from the checkpoint and out of sight of the person stationed there.
Thompson first went to the site about 45 minutes after the problem was reported. His two deputies were out of the van and had been taken to Loris Hospital.
He looked for the van, but didn’t see it.
“The only way they could find the van was going by boat. That’s the way they found the van,” he said.
The two deputies, Joshua Bishop and Stephen Flood, are on administrative leave and will be until three investigations are complete, one by the State Law Enforcement Division, an internal investigation by the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and an ongoing traffic investigation.
The dead women, being transported by court order, are Windy Newton, 45, of Shalotte, N.C., and Nicolette Green, 43, of Myrtle Beach.
Their bodies were taken to Charleston for autopsies.
One question Thompson wants to answer now that he has more information is about any shackles that might have been on the women that might have kept them from getting out of the van.
“I can tell you this. I was at the scene when the bodies were recovered. They were not shackled,” he said. “The reason that I’ve been given that they (his deputies) couldn’t open the door was the pressure of the rushing water. I know they tried very hard.”
Thompson has made contact with members of both of the women’s families.
The Sheriff called the event “a tragic, tragic, horrible incident” and said, he thought the right thing to do was contact the families and tell them how sorry he is and to answer any questions they might have.
Information provided by the Sheriff’s Office says Sheriff’s employees transport about 1,200 patients each year for treatment and travel up to 40,000 miles each month.
The ladies were being transported after involuntary commitments by a physician, according to information provided by the Sheriff’s Office.
The van was recovered in Marion County at about 2:30 p.m. on Monday and was turned over to SLED officials for their investigation.
“It’s a tragedy,” Thompson said. “You can’t make anything out of it other than it’s tragic and it’s horrible.”
Thom Berry, spokesperson for SLED, said the investigation into the event is proceeding.
“We still have a lot of information to go through. We still have interviews to conduct and evidence to analyze,” he said, adding that it’s going to take time.
“We’re trying to work as expeditiously as possible. We certainly aren’t going to drag our feet. We just want to make sure we do it right and fair to everyone involved,” Berry said.
In line with standard procedure for SLED investigations, the results will be passed on to prosecutors, who will be consulted as the investigation proceeds.
Berry said the Solicitor’s Office can choose to join the investigation or hand it off to another Solicitor’s Office or the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.
Thompson said both deputies have attorneys.
WMBF News reached out to the S.C. National Guard and they said they are not able to comment at on an active investigation.
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