‘It’s been agonizing:’ Families of mental health patients who drowned in HCSO van speak at Senate subcommittee hearing

Families of mental health patients who drowned in HCSO van speak at Senate subcommittee hearing

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) – A South Carolina Senate subcommittee that was appointed to investigate the deaths of Nicolette Green and Wendy Newton met for the first time Thursday.

The Corrections and Penology Special Subcommittee on Mental Health Initiatives was also tasked with proposing new legislation that would change the way mental health patients are treated and transported in South Carolina.

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, from Charleston, is the chairman of the subcommittee. The group listened to testimony from a number of people, including the family of Nicolette Green, Wendy Newton’s family’s lawyer, and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.

“It’s been agonizing. You think about what their final moments were like, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” said Donnela Green-Johnson, Nicolette’s sister.

“The hardest part for me was to see my 6-year-old cousin Gad," said nephew Connor Johnson. "Every time I see him it just brings back how his mother came back and they were starting to have a relationship, and then it being swept away from him.”

Newton’s son said his mother was the type of person who would be there for others.

“Something like this should never happen to anybody, and I just think that real changes need to come, and I hope that we can see them come,” Charles Newton said.

After hearing testimony for about two hours, Kimpson said he hopes to get some kind of legislation drafted before the session starts in January.

The subcommittee plans on meeting again before then to determine what the best route to take would be. The members agreed there needs to be a change in a number of ways mental health patients are treated, especially surrounding how they are transported.

Green and Newton were the two patients who were inside an Horry County Sheriff’s Office transport van when the vehicle was overtaken by flood waters in September, resulting in the drowning deaths of the two women.

Nicolette Green (Source: Donnela Green-Johnson)
Nicolette Green (Source: Donnela Green-Johnson)

HCSO corrections officers Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop, who were driving the van at the time of the accident, have since been fired.

Green’s family testified Thursday that they were not told transporting Nicolette on their own was even an option, despite the fact that the law states it is.

Connor and Donnela Green-Johnson, Nicolette Green’s nephew and sister, [Donnela]: “It’s been agonizing. You think about what their final moments were like, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” [Connor]: “The hardest part for me was to see my six-year-old cousin Gad. Every time I see him it just brings back how his mother came back and they were starting to have a relationship, and then it being swept away from him.”

The senators on the subcommittee agreed families need to be notified that transporting family members themselves rather than having law enforcement handle it is an option.

Donnela Green-Johnson, Green’s sister, spoke after the meeting, saying she is optimistic about what she heard.

SLED is still investigating the case. Keel said the investigation report was being reviewed Thursday. It will then be sent to Solicitor Ed Clements.

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