Horry County sheriff, fired deputies answer civil lawsuit over van drowning death

Four individual defendants named in a wrongful death lawsuit over the drowning of a woman in the back of an Horry County Sheriff’s van denied the allegations.

The four defendants — sheriff Phillip Thompson, deputy Elizabeth Orlando and ex-deputies Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop — answered the civil suit in federal court last week.

Wendy Newton’s family filed a civil lawsuit in August over Newton’s death. Newton and Nikki Green were mental health patients under an order for transport to mental health facilities by the Horry County Sheriff’s Office.

The two were transported days after Hurricane Florence passed through the area and left hundreds of roads impassable because of floodwaters. Flood and Bishop drove the van as the women were held in a caged area in the back.

Outside of Nichols, Flood drove around a National Guard vehicle and into floodwaters. The van was swept off the road and quickly submerged. The deputies escaped, but could not free the women. By the time rescuers arrived, the women drowned.

Bishop and Flood were fired and criminally charged — both of their criminal cases remain active.

The Newton family also sued the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and Horry County. Those two entities have yet to answer the civil suit.

The individual defendants in their filings denied many of the allegations by the Newton family. They only admitted to items of simple fact, such as working for the Sheriff’s Office. Each filing also notes several potential defenses for the individual officers.

According to Thompson’s and Orlando’s answers, even if they were negligent, the women’s death might have been due to the negligence of others.

Flood’s answer notes that his actions were reasonable “in all respects in light of existing law,” according to the filing. He also claimed his actions were not the “direct or proximate cause” of any injury alleged by Newton’s family.

Finally, Bishop says he “was confronted with a sudden peril brought on by the negligence, willfulness, wantonness, carelessness and grossly negligent conduct of someone other than this Defendant, and over which this Defendant had no control,” the filing states.

All of the named defendants asked a judge to dismiss the case.

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News

Alex Lang is the True Crime reporter for The Sun News covering the legal system and how crime impacts local residents. He says letting residents know if they are safe is a vital role of a newspaper. Alex has covered crime in Detroit, Iowa, New York City, West Virginia and now Horry County.