SC lawmakers want answers after mental health patients drowned
Two S.C. deputies who drove a van carrying two mental health patients into floodwaters in September did not have a key to the van’s rear door to allow them to rescue the trapped women, S.C. lawmakers were told Thursday.
Instead, Nicolette “Nikki” Green, 43, and Wendy Newton, 45, died a slow death, their families said.
“My aunt Nini was treated like a criminal,” said Green’s 14-year-old nephew, Connor GreenJohnson. “Her rights were violated through the actions of two negligent deputies and an old, outdated mental health care system.”
Senators called Thursday’s hearing after the women — Green, of Myrtle Beach and Newton, of Shallotte, N.C. — drowned Sept. 18 in the back of an Horry County sheriff’s van that submerged in Hurricane Florence-related flooding in Marion County.
The women were picked up by the sheriff’s van at a mental-health treatment center in Loris and the Waccamaw Center for Mental Health for transfer to centrs in Darlington and Lancaster.
Neither Green nor Newton — both described by their families as having no history of violence — was restrained or shackled in the van, according to previous media reports.
Green’s sister, Donnela Green-Johnson, told lawmakers that the family was told that deputies were given an approved route to take that would avoid flooded roads.
Instead, the families said, the deputies drove down a flooded road. Once in the water, the van dropped into a 5- to 7foot-deep hole, lifting the van and pinning it against a guardrail, Newton’s family attorney, Tommy Brittain, told senators.
That made the van’s side door unusable. The deputies couldn’t free the women through the van’s rear door because they didn’t have its key or bolt- cutters, Brittain said.
Unable to free the women, the two deputies waited on top of the van until rescue teams from Marion and Horry could arrive.
Both women were trapped in the van for more than 24 hours until rescuers could remove their bodies.
“There was no policy here. ... There was no training here, Mr. chairman,” Brittain told state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who chaired Thursday’s hearing. “The illegal, conscious indifference to the rights of the mentally ill is a serious problem in our state.”
Horry County deputies Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop have since been fired.
Their termination letter said the deputies “made a conscious decision” to drive the van around a road barricade and into floodwaters.
The S.C. Law Enforcement Division investigated the deaths at the request of the Horry County sheriff. SLED Chief Mark Keel told senators Thursday that the report will be sent to the 12th Circuit Solicitor’s Office for a decision about whether to file charges.
Green’s family has called for both ex-deputies to face criminal charges.
‘WE DON’TWANT THIS FORGOTTEN’
In June, Green returned home to Myrtle Beach, mourning the death of her 7-year-old son, her sister Green-Johnson said. Green was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was put on medication.
“It’s bittersweet because we had just gotten my sister back,” GreenJohnson said
On Sept. 18, GreenJohnson said Green’s 19-year-old daughter drove her to a scheduled counseling appointment, where her new counselor decided that Green should be committed.
Green’s daughter “feels like she delivered her mom to her death,” Green-Johnson said, and the family never was given an opportunity to transfer Green themselves.
Lawmakers say state law about transporting mental health patients might need to be changed.
A memorial on the side of U.S. Highway 76 in Marion County honors Nicolette Green and Wendy Newton, who drowned while Horry County Sheriff’s deputies were transporting them from Conway to medical centers in Darlington and Lancaster.