New lawsuit filed by family of a woman who drowned in an HCSO transport van during Hurricane Florence

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CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – The family of Nicolette Tanyja Eugenua French (also known as Nicolette Green) is suing Horry County, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Phillip Thompson, Elizabeth Orlando and the two now-former deputies that were driving the transport van that French died in during Hurricane Florence.

According to the lawsuit, French was being transported from Waccamaw Center for Mental Health to McLeod Behavior Health Services in Darlington in an Horry County transport van. The lawsuit claims that the van had been modified to include a caged compartment with only one exit door and one path of escape in case of an emergency. The lawsuit claims that French would not have drowned if not for the “deliberate indifference of Defendant Horry County to the safety of the passengers for whose transport the County purchased, maintained and modified the vehicle.”

The lawsuit also claims that Sheriff Thompson and HCSO Transportation Supervisor Elizabeth Orlando knew that the modifications “prevented access to a second exit, left custodial passengers with only one path of escape, and posed a pervasive and unreasonable risk of harm to every custodial passenger.”

Former deputies Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop were the ones in charge of the van that night and a disciplinary report says Flood was the driver and that he “made a conscious decision to drive a transport van around a barricade and into floodwaters (a substantial risk) that resulted in the death of patients after being provided a safe route by supervisors to avoid floodwaters.”

A similar disciplinary report on Bishop 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.”

Both Flood and Bishop were terminated from the Sheriff’s Office on October 24.

The lawsuit says that Horry County “failed to offer or require any training on evacuation of passengers from the caged compartment, though the need for such training was obvious and the failure to require such training placed all custodial passengers at substantial risk of serious harm” and that the county failed to enact any policy relating to the transport of passengers in dangerous weather conditions.

The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages for French’s death and is demanding a jury trial.

“I want answers. I want admissions of guilt and culpability. I want reform for mental health illness policies and procedures. I don’t want this to go away,” Jewels wrote in an emotional Facebook post remembering the death of Nicolette. 

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