Ex-South Carolina deputies to be charged in mental patients' drownings

Charges are expected Friday against two South Carolina law enforcement officers that were transporting two mental patients who drowned while locked in the back of a van during Hurricane Florence, according to a prosecutor's statements to several media outlets.

Stephen Flood will be charged with two counts each of reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter, Solicitor Ed Clements told news outlets late Thursday. Joshua Bishop will be charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, he said.

Flood and Bishop were fired from the Horry County Sheriff's Office in October as part of an internal investigation. Authorities said the two deputies were driving 45-year-old Wendy Newton and 43-year-old Nicolette Green through Marion County to a mental-health facility as part of a court order when their van was swept away by rising floodwaters caused by torrential rains brought to the state by Hurricane Florence.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, file photo, responders congregate near where two people drowned the evening before when they were trapped in a Horry County Sheriff's transport van while crossing an overtopped bridge over the Little Pee Dee River on Highway 76, during rising floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Marion County, S.C. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, file photo, responders congregate near where two people drowned the evening before when they were trapped in a Horry County Sheriff's transport van while crossing an overtopped bridge over the Little Pee Dee River on Highway 76, during rising floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Marion County, S.C. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

The powerful tropical system smashed into the Southeast coast as a hurricane Sept. 14, triggering severe flooding as it weakened yet nearly stalled over the Carolinas for days.

Green and Newton drowned in the back of the locked van on Sept. 18. Horry County officials have said that the deputies tried unsuccessfully to rescue the women from the van, which was on its side, blocking the door the deputies would have needed to unlock with a key. When rescue crews finally arrived, the van was underwater, and the deputies were plucked from its roof.

Many roads in the northeastern part of the state were flooded out and blocked off in the days following the powerful storm. Authorities with the sheriff's department have said that the deputies, in a marked sheriff's department vehicle, were waved through a barricade near the Little Pee Dee River by National Guardsmen charged with keeping motorists out of the area.

The Little Pee Dee was one of several rivers officials watched closely in the days following the storm.

In the months since, a legislative committee has opened hearings into the incident, discussing potential changes to the laws on how patients who are committed to mental hospitals are handled by police.