2 detainees drown as van swept into floodwaters in SC

A church is surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence

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.

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.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office would not say which deputy was driving the van.

Thompson identified the women as 45-year-old Windy Newton and 43-year-old Nicolette Green.

"Tonight's incident was a tragedy", Horry County sheriff Phillip Thompson said.

Thompson said it took rescue crews about 45 minutes to find the van and get to it via boat. 'Just like you, we have questions we want answered'.

This incident is being investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson tells The Associated Press two deputies were transporting the women between Nichols and Mullins night.

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"They were trying to negotiate through fast-running water, and it just didn't work out", he told AP.

Richardson said the deputies and two patients began the trip that afternoon from a hospital near Conway, where tributaries of the Pee Dee River are overflowing their banks. High-water rescue teams plucked the deputies from the top of the van. Richardson, who serves as coroner in adjacent Marion County, confirmed their deaths that night, but authorities had to leave the bodies and van in the water until conditions were less hazardous. "We are fully cooperating with the State Law Enforcement Division to support their investigation of this event".

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

Floodwaters in North Carolina were still quite high as of September 19.

"I'm not sure if it was the way the van was positioned, against a guardrail, or if it was pressure from the water, but unfortunately they were not able to get the van doors open and get the ladies out", Thompson said.

The death toll from Florence rose to 37 in three states, the AP report noted.

Stephen Flood, a 10-year veteran of the sheriff's office, and Joshua Bishop, a six-year veteran, escaped the van after it encountered floodwaters near U.S. Highway 76 and Pee Dee Island Road in Marion County.

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