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Deputies who were transporting mental health patients who drowned in Florence floodwaters may have ignored barrier

The New York Daily News - 9/21/2018

Sept. 20--Two South Carolina deputies have been placed on administrative leave as authorities investigate the drowning deaths of two mental health patients they were transporting to different facilities after Hurricane Florence hit.

Wendy Newton, 45, and 43-year-old Nicolette Green lost their lives on Tuesday night when Florence floodwaters trapped them inside their van.

"I was confused as to why someone would, or the police officers would drive down a road that was in an area that was known for flooding," Green's 19-year-old daughter Rose Hershberger told NBC News. "If they saw the water -- they have their own, you know, 'turn around, don't drown.' They have that everywhere."

State lawmaker Justin Bamberg wondered why the deputies were driving on that road, considering the flood dangers.

"People need to know exactly how it happened," he said. "It makes it seem like someone took a very unnecessary risk in creating the problem in the first place."

Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson said during a press conference on Wednesday that deputies Joshua Bishop and Stephen Flood appeared to drive around a barrier blocking the road.

"It hasn't been confirmed to me that they did, but here's my question: There's barriers there," he said. "It could be assumed that he did."

The deputies tried to free the women, but were unable to save them. The bodies were not recovered by responders until Wednesday.

The State Law Enforcement Division and Highway Patrol are both conducting investigations, and the sheriff's office has launched an internal probe.

Thompson said he did not believe the women were in restraints in the back of the van.

The women had been involuntarily committed by a physician. Under South Carolina law, people who have been certified by a doctor as posing an imminent risk of harm to themselves by virtue of mental illness and are the subject of an involuntary emergency admission must be escorted by law enforcement to the hospital that has agreed to admit them, officials with the state's Department of Mental Health said.

The documents authorizing the admission to the hospital require "a law enforcement officer, preferably in civilian clothes and preferably with crisis intervention training, to take into custody and transport the person to the hospital designated by the certification."

Neither woman has an arrest record in South Carolina. Newton had posted on Facebook that she previously had been hospitalized for mental illness, and wrote about her struggles.

With News Wire Services

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