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Bodies recovered of mental health patients almost 24 hours after drowning

21 September 2018

Officials say two women being transported to a mental health facility by deputies have drowned when they were trapped in the van as it was engulfed in rising SC floodwaters. Officials said that the transport van was near the Little Pee Dee River, one of the bodies of water that state officials are watching following the heavy rains of Florence.

Horry County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Brooke Holden said a sheriff's office van was carrying two "detainees" and two deputies to Darlington on Tuesday night when it was overtaken by floodwaters.

Authorities confirm two detainees drowned when a van was swept away in rising flood waters in SC.

"Tonight's incident is a tragedy", Sheriff Phillip Thompson said.

Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson confirmed to AP earlier Tuesday that two women died in the incident.

"It's still hard, we've got rising, rapid water, debris-infested water, dark water, and the auto is all the way under the water now", Richardson said Wednesday afternoon.

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The river stands at more than 14 feet and is expected to reach 15.6 feet by Thursday night.

Asked how the women were restrained in the back of the van, Fox told CNN they were "seat belted". Richardson said the deputy who was driving had been "trying to negotiate through fast-running water, and it just didn't work out".

Holden said that deputies tried to get the victims out but couldn't.

The deputies waited on top of the van until rescuers arrived.

Under South Carolina law, people who have been certified by a physician as posing an imminent risk of harm to themselves by virtue of mental illness and are the subject of an involuntary emergency admission must be transported by law enforcement to whichever designated hospital has agreed to admit them, according to officials with the state's Department of Mental Health.

In the statement provided by police, HCSO cited two state laws saying officers are "authorized and required to take into custody and transport [the person] to the hospital designated by the certification".

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The investigation has been handed over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the news release said.

SLED, the South Carolina Highway Patrol and the Horry County Sheriff's Office are investigating the incident.

State police spokesman Thom Berry told the AP that agents were on the scene aiding in the recovery effort.

Thompson said he was concerned with the five deaths, but he said those at the detention center were different. He said the two deputies involved had been placed on administrative leave and he had launched an internal investigation.

"I know that it is a very sad situation so ive just been praying for the victims and the families of the victims", said Martin.

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Bodies recovered of mental health patients almost 24 hours after drowning