Ex-deputy sentenced to 18 years after mentally in poor health drowning in van

A former South Carolina sheriff’s deputy who drove a jail truck into flood water while transporting two women to a psychiatric center in 2018, causing them to drown in a cage in the back as the water rose, was convicted on Thursday and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

A Marion County jury found former Horry County sheriff’s deputy Stephen Flood guilty of two counts of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of reckless manslaughter in the deaths of Nicolette Green, 43, and Wendy Newton, 45. They were mentally ill patients that Mr. Flood and another deputy transported from hospitals to psychiatric facilities where they had been admitted.

The jury appeared to agree with prosecutor Ed Clements, the 12th Circuit Counsel, who had argued during the trial that Mr. Flood acted recklessly while driving “stubbornly” through a road flooded during Hurricane Florence.

“It was stubbornness and I hate to call anyone stupid, but that was a stupid act that took the lives of two innocent ladies,” Mr Clements said in his opening statement.

When the first guilty verdict was read on Thursday, Mr. Flood bowed his head. He looked down as the other guilty verdicts were announced.

Mr Clements and Jarrett Bouchette, an attorney for Mr Flood, did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Thursday.

Mr. Bouchette had argued during the trial that Mr. Flood had simply followed orders from superiors to transport the women, as is customary under state law, and that he had become the “scapegoat for this horrible, tragic accident.”

On September 18, 2018, Mr. Flood, then 66, and the deputy accompanying him, Joshua Bishop, were asked to safely transport the patients to a psychiatric center for further treatment as the hurricane drenched the Carolinas.

Ms Green had schizophrenia and Ms Newton had asked to be taken to a hospital because she thought she was going to get a “spell”, Ms Newtown’s daughter Allison said in 2018.

Officials at the time were told an itinerary that was believed to be safe, according to a probable cause affidavit. But they flouted travel instructions and instead traversed a route they felt was more efficient, Mr Clements said.

They passed through a barricade and entered a flooded Highway 76 in Marion County in northeast South Carolina, Mr Clements said.

The van stalled and, according to the affidavit, was washed into a guardrail by the floods of the Pee Dee River. The two women were trapped in a cage at the back. Water rose in the van and Mr. Flood, who couldn’t swim, called for help, Mr. Bouchette said.

Ms. Green and Ms. Newton watched as the water poured in, first slowly and then quickly, Mr. Clements said.

“Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a cage and the water is rising — how awful it was to be there,” he told the jury. “It was rising and there was nothing they could do.”

Mr. Bishop tried to save her but failed, according to the affidavit. However, he managed to save Mr. Flood. Mr. Bishop, who was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, will be tried at a later date, The Post and Courier of Charleston, SC reported.

Rescue workers later arrived and found the deputies on the roof of the van. But it was too dark by then to dive and look for the women. Their bodies were recovered the next day.

The two deputies were eventually dismissed.

Donnela Green-Johnson, a sister of Ms. Green, said at the hearing that Mr. Flood betrayed the trust that Ms. Green, Ms. Newton “and the state of South Carolina placed in him,” The Associated Press reported.

“And for what?” she asked Circuit Court Judge William H. Seals Jr. “To save time.”

Judge Seals sentenced Mr. Flood to two consecutive five-year terms of involuntary manslaughter and consecutive four-year terms of reckless murder.

Mr Clements said Mr Flood “created a risk” for the victims by driving through that water to save time.

“He ignored that risk, looked at what he saw in front of him and drove on,” he said.

When Mr. Flood committed to driving through the floodwaters, he looked back and saw it was too late to turn back, Mr. Clements said.

“He ignored each of those priorities because he wanted to take the short road,” he said. “And it turned out to be deadly.”

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