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Two Mental Health Patients Die From Flood Waters After Being Chained Inside a Police Van

Update: On Aug. 20, 2019, WBTW reported the family of Wendy Newton filed a lawsuit against the county and police department responsible for Newton and Nicolette Green’s transport to a mental health facility. Her family said in the suit Newton was treated like a criminal without any due process during the transport, a vehicle they called a “death trap.” Newton’s family is suing for undisclosed damages and alleging wrongful death. 

Two patients died Tuesday evening in the back of a Horry County Sheriff’s van after being unable to escape high flood waters that submerged the van in South Carolina, which is still dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Florence. Two deputies were transporting the women from hospitals to McLeod Behavioral Health in Darlington.

The women have been identified as Wendy Newton, 45, of Shallotte, North Carolina, and Nicolette Green, 43, of Myrtle Beach. The New York Times reported Green had schizophrenia and went to the hospital voluntarily after a counselor said she should be admitted. The article said Newton had a “severe mental illness” but did not specify what it was. Newton told her mom she felt a “spell” coming on and asked to be taken to the hospital. Though both went to hospitals voluntarily, according to The New York Times, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office stated the two women had “involuntary commitments” from a physician, which is why they needed to be transported.

Many reports have stated the women were chained in the back of the van, though the sheriff said he did not think this was the case, but he isn’t sure, according to The New York Times. He said it wasn’t typical for patients to be restrained unless they were combative, which the two patients were not. Though the Sheriff said restraints aren’t typical in his county, many non-combative patients have been transported for mental health reasons in handcuffs.

The women came from two separate hospitals, according to a local news station. The officers were able to escape but were unable to help the patients because of the conditions, according to the sheriff’s office.

The vehicle wasn’t retrieved until Wednesday evening because of dangerous conditions and high waters. It is unclear why the two patients were being transported during these conditions. (The Mighty reached out to the Sheriff’s Office for clarification and haven’t heard back.) The New York Times also found that the deputies drove on a road that was closed due to high flood waters.

“Why the hell would they leave a safe, dry area to go to God knows what?” Allison Newton, Wendy Newton’s daughter, told The New York Times. “Something feels wrong about this.”

The two deputies, Joshua Bishop and Stephen Flood have been put on administrative leave. The State Law Enforcement Division is conducting an investigation into the incident and an internal investigation is also underway, according to the Sheriff’s office.

When natural disasters happen, vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, the poor and those with disabilities or mental illnesses, are at the highest risk. Lack of access or means to evacuate, high risks with moving such as not having a place to go with adequate resources to handle disabilities and medical equipment like oxygen tanks can make these populations more vulnerable than others. Those who have medical devices that require power are at risk since power outages are common during natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

In the case of hurricane Florence, thousands of prison inmates were not given the chance to evacuate and were instead told to sit out the storm in their cells, despite a mandatory evacuation from South Carolina’s governor Henry McMaster.

After hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, people with disabilities and elderly people were discharged from hospitals that were overwhelmed, according to The Washington Post. Some of these individuals developed fatal infections from bedsores and lung infections from overly hot nursing homes and other facilities. Some ran out of oxygen while patients needing dialysis weren’t able to receive adequate treatment.

The Kaiser Foundation found that out of 680 New Orleans residents surveyed, 5 percent of them did not evacuate before Hurricane Katrina because they were physically unable. Seven percent did not evacuate because they had to care for someone who was physically unable to evacuate. Many died in hospitals because evacuation didn’t seem necessary based on natural disasters before Katrina, according to a study about the deaths from Katrina.

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