Two former Horry County corrections officers were granted bond Friday, hours after state police charged them with involuntary manslaughter in the September drowning deaths of two mental health patients in their custody.
Former Lance Cpls. Joshua Bishop and Stephen Flood were charged after State Law Enforcement Division investigators said the two men did not follow their ordered route and tried to continue through dangerous floodwaters caused by Hurricane Florence last year. Two patients they were transporting — Nicolette Green and Wendy Newton — died after the van became stuck in the water and the deputies could not open the back door to free them.
Both were charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, while Flood was also charged with two counts of reckless homicide since he was driving the van at the time. A Marion County judge granted $30,000 bond for Flood and $10,000 for Bishop.
The sheriff’s department was transporting the two women from the Myrtle Beach region to mental health treatment facilities in other areas of the state. SLED warrants say the two officers did not follow the route assigned by supervisors concerned about floodwaters that had made other roads in the Pee Dee region impassable. Instead, they took a further north route that required them to drive along U.S. Highway 76 outside Nichols.
It was there that the pair went around a barricade and attempted to navigate a flooded portion of the highway. However, the van eventually stalled in the high water and washed against the guardrail, before sinking into a collapsed section of the road. The warrants say Bishop was initially trapped inside the vehicle while Flood tried to get Green and Newton out of the van’s rear “cage.” While neither woman was restrained, the warrant said Flood was unable to get the back door open. The rear compartment is separated from the front where both deputies sat.
Flood was able to rescue Bishop, according to the warrant and both men climbed atop the van as the patients drowned inside before help could arrive. It was another day before recovery crews could safely reach the bodies.
Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson told reporters shortly after the incident that National Guardsmen had waved the van past the barricade. However, the warrants released Friday do not mention if that happened. Both deputies were later fired by Thompson.
12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements recommended the charges after a three-month investigation by SLED. The warrants state the officers were charged because Flood did not follow his superiors’ orders and attempted to drive through “clearly dangerous” floodwaters, while Bishop did not act to stop him.
State senators have said they are looking into South Carolina’s laws about transporting mental health patients to see if changes need to be made.