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Families of patients who drowned in van after Florence lash out at deputies

"All I see is my mother, and I hear her screams and her cries."
Image: Former Horry County deputies Stephen Flood, left, and Joshua Bishop appear for a bond hearing in South Carolina on Jan. 4, 2019.
Former Horry County deputies Stephen Flood, left, and Joshua Bishop appear for a bond hearing in South Carolina on Jan. 4, 2019.WMBF

The mother of a woman who drowned in floodwaters while riding in the back of a South Carolina sheriff's office van blamed her death on the "stupidity and selfishness" of the two deputies entrusted with her care, and told a judge Friday that "no amount of justice" would heal her heart.

The family members of Nicolette Green, 43, as well as a second woman who drowned in the van, Wendy Newton, 45, spoke through tears while addressing the court during a bond hearing for the former Horry County deputies.

Linda Green, Nicolette's mother, said she is haunted daily by "the horror" of her daughter gasping for air as the rising waters trapped her last September in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

Both women were mental health patients and were being transported to a behavioral center as part of their treatment when the incident occurred.

Linda Green said her daughter had been slowly improving after suffering from bouts of schizophrenia, and had willingly gone with the deputies as part of a routine to monitor her medication.

"We, as her family, realized it was helping her and we were getting her back as a daughter, and a mother and as a sister," Linda Green said. "We were overjoyed at getting her back with us. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally."

Rose Hershberger, Nicolette Green's oldest daughter and a senior in high school, lamented about not having her mother during milestones in her life, like picking out a prom dress or her graduation.

"Every night is just a constant lack of sleep," Hershberger said. "All I see is my mother, and I hear her screams and her cries."

Imag: Nicolette Green
Nicolette Green

Cheryl Graham, the associate chief magistrate in Marion County, later responded that "to say that this is a tragedy is an understatement. … May God help us all."

Graham set bond at $30,000 for Stephen Flood, who was charged with two counts each of reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter, and at $10,000 for Joshua Bishop, who was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

An affidavit released by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which investigated the deaths, on Friday said that the women were transported during a period of flooding after Hurricane Florence.

The affidavit says that prior to leaving the facility where the deputies were assigned they “were provided a travel route that was believed to be safe by supervisors” and they were advised by a fellow transport officer that a route that went through Nichols, South Carolina, would not be passable.

Flood and Bishop “did not take the discussed route,” and went a way that passed through Nichols, a lieutenant for the law enforcement division wrote in the affidavit.

After passing through a manned barricade outside Nichols and toward Mullins, South Carolina, on Highway 76, “they drove into flood waters that were covering the roadway just outside of town,” the affidavit said.

They continued through the deepening waters until the van stalled and was swept up against a guardrail, the roadway underneath the vehicle washed away, and the van sank into a large hole formed by the washout, according to the affidavit.

The subsequent investigation found "no indication" that Bishop "took any conspicuous or proactive measure" to prevent Flood "from driving the transport van into the flood waters or continuing to drive through the flood water up to the point that the vehicle became disabled,” the affidavit says.

Attorneys for the men argued that both are well-respected in the community, had many years of experience with the sheriff's office and were not flight risks. Bishop's attorney told the court that his client's wife is due to give birth next month, and that "his heart hurts every day for what has occurred."

The next hearing date was set for Feb. 26.

Both men were fired after the deaths of Green and Newton. While Horry County officials said Flood went around a barrier meant to prevent vehicles from entering hazardous areas, he had been waved through by National Guardsmen.

Meanwhile, the women were locked in the back of the van. The deputies said neither could be reached once they realized they were surrounded by floodwaters. Amid the chaos, the van ended up on its side and rested against a guardrail, and the deputies said they were unable to unlock the back door.

The affidavit says that Bishop was able to escape the van, but Flood was initially unable to completely remove himself from the vehicle. The women in the van were not restrained but could not open the compartment from within, and Bishop made “multiple attempts” to rescue them from the transport cage but was unsuccessful.

Bishop "extracted" Flood from the van, and they were later rescued by boat, according to the affidavit.

They waited on the roof of the van until they could be rescued, authorities have said.