Four months after two female mental-health patients drowned while being transported in a South Carolina sheriff’s van fleeing Hurricane Florence flood waters, the two deputies responsible for their safety are being charged with manslaughter, 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements announced in court on Friday.
The two Horry County deputies in charge—Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop—were charged Thursday night with two counts of involuntary manslaughter after they safely escaped the submerged van on September 18 while patients Nicolette Green, 43, and Wendy Newton, 45, died inside it. Flood, who was driving the vehicle, will also be charged with two counts of reckless homicide for allegedly taking what he knew to be a dangerous route.
“This is something we have been hoping and praying for since we heard the news about my sister. My family is beside themselves,” Nicolette’s sister Donnela “Jewels” Green-Johnson told The Daily Beast on Thursday night after hearing the news. “These people are finally being held accountable. But as I said before, it falls on more than just the two deputies.”
The two former deputies turned themselves in to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Friday morning before a bond hearing at 9 a.m. local time. At the hearing, a judge set a surety bond of $10,000 for Bishop and a surety bond of $30,000 for Flood. If convicted of all charges, the two deputies could be sentenced to decades in prison.
“There is no amount of justice that will ever heal my heart for the loss of my daughter,” Linda Green, Nicolette's mother said in court on Friday. “My daughter died because stupidity and selfishness of these two deputies.”
Green, who testified in court along with members of Newton's family, asked for the judge for the highest bond possible to "ensure justice."
The charges come after an extensive investigation from three law-enforcement agencies into what Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson called a “tragic accident” at the time. Immediately after the women’s deaths, Flood and Bishop were placed on paid administrative leave. They were fired from the force in October.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, two the deputies drove through the Pee Dee River, a “major flood” river that had been closely monitored by officials after Florence.
“[Flood] just ignored all of that,” Clements said in court Friday.
As the two deputies tried to drive around a road barricade, however, the river’s flood waters pinned their van against a guardrail and go under.
“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.”
Green and Newton, were restrained in the back cage with a padlocked door separating their holding area from the vehicle’s front seats.
“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,” Bellamy said at the time.
The two mothers drowned while Flood and Bishop escaped atop the submerged van where they waited for rescue teams from Marion and Horry counties to arrive and then transport them to a nearby hospital.
The sheriff’s office spokeswoman, Brooke Holden, confirmed to The Daily Beast on Thursday that the two men had been fired for “disregarding the safety of persons” while on the job but feels it is “improper to comment at this time.”
“Justice has been served” Scott Bellamy, the lawyer for the Green family said. Preston Brittain, who represents the Newton family, declined to comment on the charges.
When asked for an update on the internal investigation, however, Holden declined to comment, referring “all inquiries to the State Law Enforcement Division due to a pending investigation.”
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division spokesman Thom Berry confirmed to The Daily Beast the investigation against the two deputies ended “sometime last month” and the agency presented the file to Simmons.
“After reading the file, Simmons authorized our agents to obtain an arrest warrant for charges against the two deputies,” Berry said, adding that the case remains open “until the matter is heard in court and the reviewing prosecutor declines to press any charges.”
For the Green family, Friday’s charges against Flood and Bishop are not enough. Following Friday's hearing, the family says they are now “less confident with the Solicitor” after seeing a "lack of tenacity to “prosecute.”
“We feel like Solicitor Clements is going through the motions and not attacking this case with the vigor it warrants...surely not with the same aggressiveness he has shown in the past with cases involving crimes against law enforcement officers,” Green-Johnson told The Daily Beast on Friday. "The Green family is proud to support law enforcement - but those who serve the law are not above the law.”
She continued: “Crimes were committed and there needs to be an aggressive pursuit of justice. We aren’t seeing that at ALL from the Solicitor’s office. We hope to see an immediate and positive change.”
The two former sheriff's deputies are scheduled to appear at Marion County court on Feb. 26 at 8:30 a.m. for their next hearing.