Family of woman who drowned in HCSO transport van files federal wrongful death lawsuit

Family of woman who drowned in HCSO transport van files federal wrongful death lawsuit

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – The Horry County Sheriff’s Office faces another lawsuit in connection to the drowning deaths of two mental health patients.

The family of Nicolette Green filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit on Thursday against Horry County, Horry County Sheriff’s Office, Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson, Sgt. Elizabeth Orlando, who is the head of the transportation department at J. Reuben Long Detention Center, Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop.

The family of Wendy Newton filed a similar lawsuit back in August.

Flood and Bishop have been criminally charged in the case. Flood faces two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of involuntary manslaughter, while Bishop is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

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The lawsuit states that Green suffered from schizophrenia throughout her adult life and sought treatment at Waccamaw Center for Mental Health in Conway. On Sept. 18, 2018, she was placed on involuntary commitment orders and was arranged to be committed to McLeod Behavior Health Services in Darlington.

The staff of WCMH contacted the HCSO Transportation Division and requested that Green be transported to McLeod Behavior Health Services, which is a request that is regularly made for non-criminal, non-violent mental health patients.

The lawsuit states that during transport, mental health patients were restrained in a small compartment in the van.

Scott Bellamy, the attorney representing the family of Nicolette Green, provided photos in Nov. 2018 showing the van involved in the incident. (Source: Scott Bellamy)
Scott Bellamy, the attorney representing the family of Nicolette Green, provided photos in Nov. 2018 showing the van involved in the incident. (Source: Scott Bellamy)

“HCSO deputies regularly restrained noncriminal, nonviolent mental health patients subject to involuntary commitment by confining them to a small caged compartment inside a transport vehicle,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit went on to claim that Horry County, Thompson and Orlando did not offer or require any training on how to evacuate passengers despite the dangers of confining them in a small compartment that only had one path of escape.

On Sept. 18, 2018, floodwaters threatened parts of Horry and Marion counties due to Hurricane Florence during the transport of Green and Newton.

Nicolette Green (left) and Wendy Newton passed away in an HCSO van in September 2018.
Nicolette Green (left) and Wendy Newton passed away in an HCSO van in September 2018. (Source: Green and Newton families)

The lawsuit states that Flood and Bishop were warned of dangerous road conditions and were told to take a longer route.

“Upon information and belief, Defendants Flood and Bishop were specifically informed that Highway 9 was closed or impassable and that the town of Nichols, South Carolina was experiencing heavy flooding,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit went on to say despite that knowledge, Flood and Bishop proceeded toward Highway 9 and the town of Nichols.

“Outside the town of Nichols, Defendants Flood and Bishop encountered a barricade manned by a National Guard Military Police Officer. The Guardsman warned Defendants that flood waters were rising, roads were not passable and the town of Nichols was being evacuated. Nevertheless, Defendants Flood and Bishop continued on the same route,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that while crossing a bridge over the Pee Dee River, floodwaters pushed the vehicle against the guardrail and the transport van became stuck. It states that Flood and Bishop were able to escape but they could not get Green and Newton out from the back of the van.

Scott Bellamy, the attorney representing the family of Nicolette Green, provided photos in Nov. 2018 showing the van involved in the incident. (Source: Scott Bellamy)
Scott Bellamy, the attorney representing the family of Nicolette Green, provided photos in Nov. 2018 showing the van involved in the incident. (Source: Scott Bellamy)

The court documents state that at 5:49 p.m., Bishop radioed for help. But for one hour, Green and Newton were trapped in the back of the transport van while the floodwaters rose and the two ultimately died from drowning, according to the lawsuit.

Green’s family is seeking a jury trial in the federal lawsuit. They are asking for actual and consequential damages in an appropriate amount.

Horry County said it does not comment on pending litigation. WMBF News has also reached out to the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and asked for a statement on the lawsuit. We’re waiting to hear back.

Bishop’s attorney, Bert von Herrmann, has declined to comment because he has not had a chance to look over the lawsuit.

WMBF News also reached out to Flood’s attorney and we’re waiting to hear back.

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