2 dead after van swept away in S. Carolina amid Florence flooding

Nora Nguyen
September 23, 2018

ABC News reports that the van was traveling on Highway 76 when it was overtaken by severe flooding.

A SC sheriff says his office is performing an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the drownings of two women in a sheriff's office van who were being brought to a mental health facility.

The two deputies worked to free the women, who were being transported Tuesday night as part of a court order, but were not able to save them from the back of the van, Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson told reporters. High-water rescue teams plucked the deputies from the top of the van.

Richardson identified the two patients as Wendy Wenton, of Shallotte; and Nicolette Green, of Myrtle Beach. That effort resumed Wednesday morning, but Thompson said a specialized crew was being flown in from Charleston to assist.

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"It can be assumed he did" drive around a barricade, Sheriff Phillip Thompson said, adding that investigators want to know why the deputies chose to disregard the safety measure.

Tuesday night, with the van still underwater, state police were on the way to the scene, a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division spokesperson told a local news station. Despite persistent and ongoing efforts, floodwater rose rapidly and the deputies were unable to open the doors to reach the individuals inside the van.

We are working hand-in-hand with the State Law Enforcement Division to cooperate in this investigation.

They traveled northwest, on their way to Darlington about 100 miles away, across an obstacle course of blocked roads and swollen waters. He said it's typical for deputies to transport mental-health patients, and restraints aren't used if the patients aren't a threat.

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According to ABC affiliate WPDE, the patients were being transported from Loris Hospital Waccamaw Center for Mental Health to McLeod Health, which runs multiple facilities in the region.

A 9-mile (14-kilometer) stretch of the highway northbound had been closed because of flooding due to former Hurricane Florence.

"At this time, the recovery effort is ongoing, and the transportation vehicle can not be removed due to rising waters and risky conditions", the sheriff's office said.

Floodwaters in North Carolina were still quite high as of September 19. Earlier Wednesday, Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson had identified Newton with a different last name.

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North Carolina's governor is pleading with thousands of Hurricane Florence evacuees to be patient and not return home just yet. In March, Christopher Bennett died after eating drugs and suffering medical issues, a SLED investigation found.

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