Marion County, SC – Former Horry County Sheriff’s Deputy Stephen Flood was convicted on Thursday of the reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter of two mental health patients who drowned locked in a van that he drove past a barricade during a hurricane.
A Marion County jury deliberated for just a little more than two hours on May 19 before returning guilty verdicts on all counts against Flood, WMBF reported.
South Carolina Circuit Court Judge William Seals sentenced the 69-year-old former sheriff’s deputy to 18 years behind bars, The Post and Courier reported.
Seals gave Flood the maximum sentence of five years for each of the two manslaughter charges and four years each on two counts of reckless homicide, WMBF reported.
The maximum possible sentence the former deputy could have gotten would have put him in prison for 30 years.
Flood, who did not testify in his own defense during the trial, spoke to the families of the women who died and the judge before he was sentenced, The Post and Courier reported.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” he said.
Flood said he never intended for things to go the way that they did and said it was a result of a series of mistakes made by him and others during Hurricane Florence, The Post and Courier reported.
The Category 4 storm stalled over the Carolinas in September of 2018, swamping the areas with flooding and destruction.
During the storm on Sept. 18, 2018, Horry County Deputies Flood and Joshua Bishop loaded two mental health patients into a sheriff’s department transport van for a court-ordered trip to a mental facility in another county, FOX News reported.
Before the deputies left the jail, a supervisor provided them with safe routes to drive to transport the two women in their custody because their usual routes had been closed down due to flooding.
Affidavits said that a fellow transport officer had warned Deputies Flood and Bishop that their usual route through Nichols was impassable, The Post and Courier reported.
However, with Deputy Flood at the wheel, they ignored the detour instructions and instead headed straight into a flooded area.
The pair of deputies skipped two different warning points where they could have turned around and gone back to a safe route, according to The Post and Courier.
Instead, they had South Carolina National Guardsmen open up a barricade to let them onto a closed roadway.
Initially, the floodwaters on Route 76 were shallow, but then the water got deeper, stalling out the engine, and suddenly the van was swept away by the water.
The Post and Courier reported that the van was stopped by a guardrail and 29-year-old Deputy Bishop was able to escape and help 66-year-old Deputy Flood out, as well.
The patients they were transporting in the back of the van, 45-year-old Wendy Newton and 43-year-old Nicolette Green, were trapped in a locked cage inside the van with the main door blocked.
There was testimony on record that Deputy Bishop was able to open the back door of the transport vehicle, but he did not have a key to open the door of the interior cage, The Post and Courier reported.
That’s when the van shifted and slipped into a hole caused by the washed-out road.
The deputies stood on the roof of the van until rescuers arrived by boat to save them, according to The Post and Courier.
The bodies of both women were recovered by divers the next day. It took another week before authorities were able to retrieve the sunken van.
After the incident, on Oct. 24, 2018, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office fired both Flood and Bishop for misconduct, and the State Law Enforcement Division investigated.
The state alleged the two deputies had recklessly ignored warnings to avoid “clearly dangerous” floodwaters, prompting South Carolina lawmakers to reconsider how mental health patients are handled in their state, The Post and Courier reported.
Neither woman who died was a convicted criminal. Both had voluntarily gone for mental health assistance and were being transferred to other facilities via the statutory process of transport.
Both deputies were ultimately charged in connection with the women’s deaths.
Flood was charged with two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of involuntary manslaughter, and Bishop was charged with just two counts of involuntary manslaughter, WBFM reported.
During closing arguments, the prosecutor said Green and Newton would still be alive if not for Flood’s actions.
Ed Clements, the solicitor for Marion and Florence counties, showed drone footage of floodwaters surrounding the van as rescuers tried to get inside it, The Post and Courier reported.
“How much water you gotta have before you know you can’t take the van and turn it into a submarine?” Clements asked.
“He made a tremendously reckless decision,” the prosecutor concluded.
Flood’s defense attorneys argued that the deputies never should have been ordered to transport the women during Hurricane Florence and not given all of the keys to the transport cage.
“If they were concerned about what caused this accident, there wouldn’t be one man sitting over there,” his attorney said.
Deputy Bishop will face trial separately at a later date, WMFB reported.
Here is Stephen Flood’s new mugshot from when he was booked into the Marion County Detention Center after he was found guilty. pic.twitter.com/JdffkL7r9Q
— Patrick Lloyd (@PatrickLloydTV) May 20, 2022
Flood was booked into the Marion County Detention Center following his conviction and sentencing.