Two female mental health patients drowned in Marion County, South Carolina late Tuesday evening when rising flood waters from the Little Pee Dee River overtook the law enforcement transport vehicle in which they were traveling. They remained in the van as of early Wednesday, and Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson said authorities would not be able to retrieve their bodies until at least noon.
The pair of Horry County Sheriff's deputies who were in the van tried to extricate the patients, but, due to rapidly rising floodwaters, were unable to open the van's doors to reach the shackled women, according to a statement from County Sheriff Phillip Thompson.
WPDE-TV reported that the patients were being transported from Loris Hospital Waccamaw Center for Mental Health to McLeod Health.
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. The inmates have not been recovered. "They were trying to negotiate through fast-running water, and it just didn't work out", Richardson told AP about the incident.
"We are sorry", Thompson said". "It's come up 2 feet (0.6 metres) since just last night".
Two mental-health patients in sheriff’s van drown in S.C. floodwaters
Thom Berry, a spokesman for the State Law Enforcement Division, said SLED agents have been sent to the scene to investigate.
"It can be assumed he did" drive around a barricade, Sheriff Phillip Thompson said, adding that investigators want to know why the deputies made a decision to disregard the safety measure. Richardson later told the Washington Post that sheriff's deputies often transfer mental-health patients saying, "It's a courtesy they do". "Just like you, we have questions we want answered", he said. The bodies of Green and Newton will be taken to Medical University of SC in Charleston for autopsies.
"Tonight's incident is a tragedy". "We are fully cooperating with the State Law Enforcement Division to support their investigation of this event". Two deputies were in the van with them, though Wenton and Green were in the back.
Though in this case, it's possible Florence isn't to blame so much as the officers transporting the two women and the department that waited so long to relocate them. It could have been water pressure or the way the van was resting against a guard rail, he said.
At the time of writing, the van is still in the water.