HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — A now-former Horry County deputy who drove a van with a cage in it on the day that two mental health patients drowned during Hurricane Florence has been found guilty on all charges.
Stephen Flood is one of two people charged in connection with the deaths of Wendy Newton and Nicolette Green. The two were killed on Sept. 18, 2018, when the van became submerged in floodwater on Highway 76 in Marion County. He was charged with two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Flood was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The families of the victims addressed the court after the verdict was read and talked about the loss of their loved ones.
“He swore to serve and protect,” said Donnela Green-Johnson, the sister of Green. “Instead, he abused the trust that my sister Nicki, Wendy and the state of South Carolina entrusted with him. And for what? To save some time? He decimated our family with his reckless behavior and took two people from this earth.”
Flood said during his time with the sheriff’s office he always tried to treat inmates and patients with respect.
“I never intended to do anything to make this happen the way it did,” Flood said. “It was a series of mistakes on my part and other people that led me to that point in time. I’m sorry for what happened to the girls.”
The state said that Flood was focused on shifting blame, and that he acted with reckless disregard when he drove through the waters. He did not take alternate routes that were suggested to him by supervisors, even though they were told about them before he left.
Although construction flaws in the gear may be also to blame, the prosecution said that the main cause was Flood’s decision making.
The defense team said that Flood had chances to turn around, but was told at he was good to keep taking his route at each of those opportunities. His team legal team said that his supervisors said he behaved with integrity that day.
The defense pinned the main cause of the deaths on case “overflows,” which didn’t have to do with Flood. They said the vehicle and roads were unsafe, and called the van with a cage in it a death trap since it didn’t have an emergency exit.
But instead, he’s been a scapegoat, they argued.
Newton’s family filed lawsuits that alleges wrongful death by driving her in a locked cage on a dangerous road in standing water, failing to follow the correct route and for using a caged inmate van for a mental health patient. The lawsuit also referred to the vehicle as a “death trap.”
A case against the company that made the caged van was settled for $1 million. A lawsuit against Horry County has also been settled.
Deputy Joshua Bishop, who officials said was in the passenger seat, will be tried separately.