Horry County Deputies Charged in Drowning Deaths

Wendy Newton and Nicolette Green are dead. Gone forever.

Back in September 2018, as the remnants of Hurricane Florence continued to flood the Grand Strand Area, Horry County Sheriff’s Deputies drove a transport van into flood waters while the two women drowned, locked in the back of the van.

The van was bound for [the City of] Florence, about an hour’s drive northwest in good conditions. But that afternoon, in the storm’s aftermath, it wound through a treacherous maze of closed roads and floodwaters pouring off the Pee Dee River and its tributaries.

So, you have two women locked in the back of a van. You are driving down the road and find yourself in “a treacherous maze of closed roads and floodwaters.” What’s a responsible deputy sheriff to do?

Admit that you probably should not be driving at all in these conditions? Backtrack and return the passengers to the facility where you picked them up?

I know what you should not do – drive around barricades and into the flood waters

Conflicting Statements from County Officials

There have been conflicting statements from county officials since the incident was first reported.

Although county officials first reported that the dead women were “detainees,” it was later clarified that they were mental health patients that the sheriff’s office was transporting from a hospital in Loris (or Conway, or the Sheriff’s Office, depending on which county official is talking) to a hospital in Florence, SC (the city, not the storm).

Original reports said that the women were shackled inside the back of the van as the water rose around their heads, choking out their life. The Sheriff later said they were not shackled, but county officials refused to comment on whether they were locked inside (of course they were locked inside – it’s a sheriff’s office transport van).

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished?

The County Coroner says that the deputies were giving the women a ride “as a courtesy,” in a statement that sounds a lot like “no good deed goes unpunished:”

They were getting a routine ride from the sheriff’s office to another hospital, according to coroner Jerry Richardson. “It’s a courtesy they do,” he said. “Sometimes you do the right thing and it ends up wrong.

In my experience, when someone complains that “no good deed goes unpunished,” the problem is usually the complaining person’s incompetence, not that they are being punished unfairly because they did a good deed…

The deputies chose to pick the women up, lock them in the back of their van, and then drive around barricades into rising floodwaters.

The Sheriff’s Office said that the “two deputies escaped from the cab and tried to get the women out of the back.”

I wasn’t there. I didn’t see what happened. I can tell you how I feel hearing the coroner and sheriff’s office make excuses for what was incompetent, reckless, and grossly negligent conduct that resulted in the horrifying deaths of two women.

Driving around the barriers, driving into the flood water, and allowing the passengers to die horribly while locked in the back of the van was negligent, but was it criminal?

Reckless Homicide and Involuntary Manslaughter

Were the deputies’ actions criminal? It seems clear that they were negligent, and the county is likely going to pay in a civil lawsuit for wrongful death, but was it criminal?

Over three months later, one deputy has been charged with two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of involuntary manslaughter, and the other deputy has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

What does that mean?

What is Reckless Homicide in SC?

SC Code Section 56-5-2910 defines reckless vehicular homicide as when “the death of a person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury received by the driving of a vehicle in reckless disregard of the safety of others.”

It does not require “malice aforethought” like a murder charge, or even a general criminal intent – the state of mind required is criminal negligence.

If a person drove a vehicle in reckless disregard of the safety of others, and it was the proximate cause of someone’s death, that is reckless homicide. Although the state of mind is like that required to find someone liable in a civil case, “reckless disregard” must still be proven beyond any reasonable doubt in a reckless homicide case.

Reckless vehicular homicide is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

What is Involuntary Manslaughter in SC?

SC Code Section 16-3-60 says that criminal negligence is also the required state of mind for involuntary manslaughter charges:

With regard to the crime of involuntary manslaughter, criminal negligence is defined as the reckless disregard of the safety of others. A person charged with the crime of involuntary manslaughter may be convicted only upon a showing of criminal negligence as defined in this section.

Involuntary manslaughter is different than voluntary manslaughter in that voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing (and punishable by up to 20 years in prison). Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing without malice while either 1) engaged in a lawful activity or 2) engaged in an unlawful activity that wouldn’t ordinarily cause death or great bodily injury.

Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by no more than five years in prison.

Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Lexington SC Criminal Defense Lawyer

Lacey Thompson is a criminal defense attorney with offices in Columbia and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in SC, or if you believe you are under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or send a message online to talk with a SC criminal defense lawyer today.

horry county deputies charged in drowning deaths

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