COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two women who were being transported to a mental health facility drowned when a sheriff’s department van was swept away in rising South Carolina floodwaters, according to authorities.
Horry County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Brooke Holden said a sheriff’s office van was carrying two “detainees” and two deputies to Darlington on Tuesday night when it was overtaken by floodwaters. Officials said the van was near the Little Pee Dee River, one of the bodies of water state officials were watching following the heavy rains of Florence.
In a statement emailed to reporters, Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson identified the women as Windy Newton, 45, and Nicolette Green, 43. Earlier Wednesday, Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson had identified Newton with a different last name.
“They’re still under the water,” Richardson told The Associated Press early Wednesday. “It’s come up 2 feet since just last night.”
Richardson said the van came across rising water and was carried off the road.
“They were trying to negotiate through fast-running water, and it just didn’t work out,” he told AP.
Holden said that deputies tried to get the victims out but couldn’t. Rescue teams plucked the deputies from the top of the van.
Horry County Deputy Tom Fox told WPDE-TV the victims were mental health patients being transported from one facility to another. Holden wouldn’t give further details on the victims’ status, citing an ongoing state police investigation.
Neither woman has an arrest record in South Carolina, according to documents obtained from the State Law Enforcement Division. Their names also yielded no records in the Horry County jail and court index systems.
State police spokesman Thom Berry told the AP on Wednesday that agents were on the scene aiding in the recovery effort. Thompsons said his office would cooperate with the probe.
“Tonight’s incident is a tragedy,” he said. “Just like you, we have questions we want answered.”
Thompson planned to address reporters later Wednesday. He said the two deputies involved had been placed on administrative leave and he had launched an internal investigation.
Justin Bamberg, a state lawmaker and lawyer who has represented the families of several people injured or killed by law enforcement officers, said Wednesday he’s perplexed by the decision to transport anyone in such uncertain weather conditions.
“If that road is in an area where it is a flood risk, and waters were rising, why were they driving on that road anyway?” he said. “People need to know exactly how it happened. It makes it seem like someone took a very unnecessary risk in creating the problem in the first place.”