The Slatest

Two Mental Health Patients Stuck in Police Van Drown in South Carolina Floods

A car is partially submerged in floodwater as the sun sets.
A car sits in a flooded parking lot on Sept. 18 in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The death toll from Hurricane Florence has risen to at least 35 people. More than half of those deaths, according to the Los Angeles Times, have resulted from accidents involving vehicles—victims who became trapped in their cars and were overtaken by floodwaters or who crashed while attempting to drive during dangerous weather.

The latest of these fatalities occurred on Tuesday evening, when two mental health patients, secured in a sheriff’s van, drowned in Horry County, South Carolina, when the van succumbed to deep floodwaters. According to police, the driver lost control of the van, and he and another deputy climbed out of the van and onto its roof, where they were later found and rescued by high-water rescue teams, according to the Associated Press.

“Despite persistent and ongoing efforts, floodwater rose rapidly and the deputies were unable to open the doors to reach the individuals inside the van,” a statement from the sheriff’s office said.

The coroner identified the victims as Windy Newton, 45, and Nicolette Green, 43.* The deputies had been transporting the two women from the hospital to a mental health center in Darlington, South Carolina, at the time. An early statement from the sheriff’s office described the two women as detainees, but the coroner told reporters they were mental health patients. Whether the women were restrained in any way or whether they were simply being transported in the vehicle is still unclear.

The coroner also told reporters that the high current and the darkness prevented authorities from even attempting to recover the bodies. The river that flooded, the Little Pee Dee River, had swelled dramatically over the weekend, and in the next couple days, it is expected to crest at 16 feet—7 feet higher than flood stage, according to WMBF News. Rivers elsewhere in the region are isolating homes and even entire communities, and some might not reach their highest levels until next week, according to the Associated Press.

A spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said agents had been sent to the scene to investigate, and the county’s sheriff said his office would be cooperating with the investigation.

Correction, Sept. 19, 2018: This piece originally misspelled Windy Newton’s last name.