Two South Carolina deputies were fired on Wednesday night for their role in the death of two female mental-health patients who drowned last month while being transported in a sheriff’s van swept away by Hurricane Florence’s floodwaters.
The Horry County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the firings as part of an ongoing investigation into the two deputies, Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop, who safely escaped the submerged van.
The two mental-health patients, Nicolette Green, 43, and Wendy Newton, 45, died inside the van.
“Corrections Officers Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop employment with the Horry County Sheriff Office was terminated today, as a result of an ongoing internal administrative investigation into the incident where two female occupants died when a detention center transport van was overtaken by floodwaters,” the Horry County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
While Donnela “Jewels” Green-Johnson, sister of Nicolette Green, has fought for the last month to have the two deputies prosecuted, she celebrated their firing as a positive move.
“First step towards justice! We are very happy,” Green-Johnson told The Daily Beast on Thursday, adding that the sheriff called the family before making the news public. “It is the first formal acknowledgment of any wrongdoing by anyone in the county.”
Members of Newton’s family declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
On Sept. 18, the deputies were assigned to transport Green and Newton to a facility farther inland when they came upon a road flooded by the Pee Dee River. That waterway, a county sheriff’s office spokeswoman told The Daily Beast last month, was considered a “major flood” river and was being closely monitored by officials after the hurricane.
Ignoring protocol, however, the deputies drove around a road barricade and were quickly met by the floodwaters, pinning the van against a guardrail.
“The water is deep, fast, and contaminated,” Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson told The Daily Beast at the time. “They were trying to negotiate with it and it just didn’t work out.”
Though Flood and Bishop tried to rescue the two women “for a long period of time,” they failed to open the padlocked door separating the front seats from the back, caged area, authorities confirmed to The Daily Beast.
Green and Newton, though not physically restrained, were unable to escape the rear, caged holding area.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, the standard-issue Ford van used to transport the two mental-health patients had only two exit points: the front side doors and a set of double doors on the back of the vehicle, which were padlocked. The van also contained a video-recording device that was retrieved by state investigators.
“My understanding is that they didn’t have a key to the lock and the side exit was unavailable to the women because it was blocked by either guardrail or pressure from the water,” said Scott Bellamy, the Green family’s attorney.
The two women ultimately drowned, while Flood and Bishop were able to climb on top of the submerged van to wait for rescue teams to arrive, after which they were transported to a nearby hospital.
Following the incident, three law-enforcement agencies launched investigations into what Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson deemed a “tragic accident.” Flood and Bishop were placed on paid administrative leave, where they remained until Wednesday’s termination.
“Since the administrative internal investigation is currently continuing and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division inquiry into the incident is ongoing, no further details regarding the employees’ termination of employment can be released at this time,” the sheriff’s office added in its Wednesday statement.
But Green-Johnson, a mother of four, is hopeful the investigation will yield further details, after a month of either being repeatedly put on hold or never receiving a call back from officials.
While Wednesday’s announcement came sooner than she had anticipated, she said she is confident there will be justice for her sister and Wendy Newton.
“These men still need to be held accountable for what happened,” Green-Johnson said, reiterating the demands she’s made for the last month. “It is obvious manslaughter, reckless endangerment with gross negligence. We still want criminal charges to be brought to both men.”