Drowning victims in Horry sheriff van caught in flood waters are identified

Faith Castro
September 20, 2018

Horry County Deputy Tom Fox told WPDE-TV the victims were mental health patients being transported from one facility to another.

Responders congregate on September 19, 2018, near where two people drowned Tuesday evening when they were trapped in a Horry County Sheriff transport van while crossing an overtopped bridge over the Little Pee Dee River, in Marion County, S.C.

Green's mother declined to speak to a reporter Wednesday but said, "It's just a tragedy".

"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 identified the two patients as Wendy Wenton, of Shallotte; and Nicolette Green, of Myrtle Beach. The sheriff's office characterized them as detainees.

Richardson provided the patients' names but not their spellings.

The two deputies attempted to extricate the persons being transported.

Under South Carolina law, people who have been certified by a physician as posing an imminent risk of harm to themselves by virtue of mental illness and are the subject of an involuntary emergency admission must be transported by law enforcement to whichever designated hospital has agreed to admit them, according to officials with the state's Department of Mental Health. "When we get the order, we transport them". The vehicle was traveling west on Highway 76 around ½ mile from the Little Pee Dee River when the vehicle was overtaken by flood waters.

"We get an order to transport to a facility, that's what we do", Thompson said.

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"Despite persistent and ongoing efforts, floodwater rose rapidly and the deputies were unable to open the doors to reach the individuals inside the van", Thompson said.

He added the women, who he says were not detainees but mental health patients, were not strapped/shackled in the van.

The sheriff's deputies survived after rescue teams arrived on the scene and brought them to safety. "It's come up 2 feet since just last night".

Police scanner audio captured by CNN affiliate WMBF indicates the floodwater carried the van through a bridge guardrail near the Little Pee Dee Lodge on the Nichols side of the river. If they were, then that could have kept them from escaping the van with their lives.

Later, someone else reports, "We have the two deputies that are out of the van and are secure on the boat".

It had gotten dark, and responders decided it wasn't safe to try to retrieve the women's bodies from the van Tuesday night.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is reportedly investigating the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

Investigators are in the early stages of conducting interviews and gathering evidence, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.

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