01:17 - Source: CNN
Carolina residents reeling after Florence
CNN  — 

South Carolina National Guardsmen allowed deputies to drive around a barricade blocking a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence moments before two mental health patients drowned inside the vehicle, authorities say.

Two deputies escaped when high water swept away their vehicle on September 18 but they could not pull out the patients on board, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office said.

Horry County spokeswoman Brooke Holden revealed on Thursday that guardsmen had waved the jail van around a barricade near the Little Pee Dee River in South Carolina. The river was over its flood stage at the time.

It’s unclear why the guardsmen allowed the jail van to pass.

Lt. Col. Cindi King, the South Carolina National Guard’s director of public affairs, declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

The sheriff’s deputies who drove the prison van – Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop – are on administrative leave with pay, Holden said.

The victims were identified as Windy Newton, 45, of Shallotte, North Carolina, and Nicolette Green, 43, of Myrtle Beach.

The deputies were transporting the women from Conway, near the coast, to Darlington, about 65 miles northwest.

Harrowing police scanner audio provides details of the efforts to save the women, who could be heard talking as rescuers scrambled to save them.

“The officers report they got out. The van is submerged, and they cannot get their inmates out,” an unidentified person says.

Later, someone else reports, “We have the two deputies that are out of the van and are secure on the boat. The two inmates are in the back of the van – are still in the van – and they’re talking, and they’re working on getting them out now.”

The women were “seat belted” in the back of the van, Horry County Chief Deputy Tom Fox said.

Rescue teams were able to save the deputies from the van’s roof. But they could not pull the vehicle from the water because it was too dangerous, the sheriff’s office said.

The women’s bodies were recovered by divers the following day and taken to Medical University of South Carolina for autopsies, officials said.

CNN’s Dave Alsup, Eliott McLaughlin and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.