The family of one of two mental health patients detained in South Carolina who drowned in flood waters following Hurricane Florence wants to know why police attempted to transport the women despite the evident danger.
Windy Newton and Nicolette Green were being transported by van to separate mental health facilities Tuesday night after being involuntarily committed by physicians, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office told HuffPost in a statement. The vehicle, operated by HCSO officers Joshua Bishop and Stephen Flood, was swept away by flooding near the Little Pee Dee River.
The officers managed to escape. But the two women, detained in the back of the vehicle, drowned.
“I’m not sure if it was the way the van was positioned, against a guardrail, or if it was pressure from the water, but unfortunately they were not able to get the van doors open and get the ladies out,” Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Thompson added that deputies may have driven around a barrier blocking the road, but that it “hasn’t been confirmed.”
Marion County coroner Jerry Richardson told HuffPost on Wednesday that the submerged van had to be left overnight with the women’s bodies still inside because of the danger it posed to rescue workers.
“It’s still difficult, we’ve got rising, rapid water, debris-infested water, dark water, and the car is all the way under the water now,” Richardson said Wednesday afternoon. The bodies were recovered later that evening.
Both Richardson and Thompson stressed that the women were not restrained. However, the women would have had no way to escape without someone opening the doors for them from outside the vehicle, Richardson said.
“It’s a sad situation all around,” he added on Thursday.
The family of 43-year-old Green spoke out Thursday demanding answers.
“Deputies are supposed take care the people that are in the back of their car,” Rose Hershberger, Green’s 19-year-old daughter, told WMBF News.
Hershberger told the station she took her mother ― who was diagnosed with schizophrenia ― to Waccamaw Center for Mental Health on Tuesday to meet with a therapist. But after 30 minutes, she was told her mother would be hospitalized. Police said a court order allowed them to transport Green and Newton.
In the statement provided by police, HCSO cited two state laws saying officers are “authorized and required to take into custody and transport [the person] to the hospital designated by the certification.”
“She was like a normal mom and the best mom anyone could ask for,” Hershberger told the station.
“We want answers,” Green’s sister, Donnela Green-Johnson, said in a Facebook post. “Why did the Deputies drive through flooded waters? What happened to ‘Turn Around. Don’t Drown?’ Gross negligence has robbed two families of their loved ones. We want those who are responsible to be held accountable. These women were not inmates or criminals. They were women who voluntarily sought help. They trusted the hospitals and the Sheriff Deputies with their lives and that trust was abused. We want answers.”
Green-Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost. But she added on Facebook that her intention is not to start a “witch hunt trying to ruin the Deputies’ lives ... we want answers.”
The incident is being investigated by HCSO and the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division. The two officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.