MULLINS, SC (WBTW) – A judge finds probable cause in the cases against two former Horry County Sheriff’s Office corrections officers charged in the deaths of two mental health patients to move forward.
Stephen Flood, the van’s driver, and Joshua Bishop, the passenger, had preliminary hearings in a Marion County courtroom Monday.
Flood is charged with two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of involuntary manslaughter. Bishop faces two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
The officers were transporting Nicolette Green and Wendy Newton on September 18 when their van was swept away by Hurricane Florence floodwaters on Hwy 76 outside of Nichols.
The judge found enough evidence to move forward with the cases. Testimony was heard from the lead State Law Enforcement Division investigator. SLED also read the official statements that Bishop and Flood provided to authorities during the investigation.
SLED said the charges come from the officers’ decisions to drive through Nichols against recommendations to use another route.
SLED investigator Stephen Howell said Bishop first freed himself then tried to free Wendy and Nicolette from the van. Howell said the two women were not shackled or handcuffed, but Bishop did not have keys to open an interior gate in the van to get to them.
Bishop shot the locks off but still could not get the grate open. According to testimony, that’s when he went to help Flood who was stuck trying to get out.
Bishop’s lawyer called him a hero and asked Monday for all charges against him to be dropped.
“He did everything he could,” Bert Von Herrmann, Bishop’s attorney, said. “There’s no indication that he moved the barriers, there’s no indication that Mr. Bishop went around the barriers, there’s no indication that Mr. Bishop did anything.”
Flood described what happened September 18th in an official statement read to the court by SLED.
“Bishop saved my life. Without him I would be dead also,” Howell, reading Flood’s statement aloud, said. “I started to panic and swallow water, but Bishop pulled me again and got me to the surface.”
The solicitor’s office acknowledged Bishop made efforts to help Flood and the two women but said it was too late. “His failure to do anything put them in failed danger,” Solicitor Ed Clements said.
Bishop’s lawyer argued he can’t be held responsible for Flood’s actions as the driver.
Marion County Judge Danny Barker, II countered that. “The difference is this was an officer, and he was sworn to a duty to protect,” Barker said. “He could have called and stopped and said, ‘hey, we’re not going through here.'”
The judge denied the defense’s request to drop charges against Bishop.
Flood’s hearing came next, and his lawyer did not ask charges to be dropped. Rather, he focused Flood’s defense on a Marion County Sheriff’s deputy who, he said, was on break from manning the barricades.
“Where is he? Why is he not charged? This is in your investigation,” Jonny McCoy, Flood’s attorney, said addressing Howell.
Howell replied that the two women were only under the direct care of Flood and Bishop.
The probable cause finding means the cases now go to trial. There is a possibility a plea deal could be reached before that happens. Solicitor Clements said it could take up to a year and a half for the trial to get underway.
Flood’s bond was set at $30,000 by a judge. Flood was released on bond on January 4, according to booking records.
Bishop’s bond was set at $10,000. Booking records show he was released on bond on Jan. 4.
Flood’s report says he was the driver and that he “made a conscious decision to drive a transport van around a barricade and into flood waters (a substantial risk) that resulted in the death of patients after being provided a safe route by supervisors to avoid floodwaters.”
In the response section of his form, Flood stated “the facts in this report are not true.”
Bishop’s report suggests he “failed to make a conscious and conspicuous effort to stop Officer Stephen Flood from driving into floodwater” after “being provided an alternate safe route by supervisors.”
In the response section of his form, Bishop marked through it and didn’t comment.
The employments of Flood and Bishop were terminated on Oct. 24, according to a press release from the HCSO. This came “as the result of an ongoing internal administrative investigation into the incident where two female occupants died when a detention center transport van was overtaken by floodwaters.”
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