Consultants sued over 2018 deaths of women in sheriff's van

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2018, file photo, responders congregate near where two people drowned the evening before when they were locked in a Horry County Sheriff's department transport van while crossing an overtopped bridge over the Little Pee Dee River on Highway 76, during rising floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Marion County, S.C. The estates of the South Carolina women who drowned filed lawsuits last week in Horry County alleging negligence by a company that created policies and procedures for the law enforcement agency. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
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The estates of two South Carolina women who drowned while locked in the back of a sheriff’s department van during Hurricane Florence have filed lawsuits alleging negligence by a company that created policies and procedures for the law enforcement agency.

The lawsuits were filed last week in Horry County by representatives of 43-year-old Nicolette Green and 45-year-old Wendy Newton against Moseley Architects, which consults with law enforcement agencies and develops policies and procedures.

Two deputies were driving the women to a mental-health facility under a court order in September 2018 when their van was swept away by rising floodwaters as Hurricane Florence inundated South Carolina.

Many roads in the northeastern part of the state were flooded out and blocked off in the days following the powerful storm, which smashed into the Southeast coast Sept. 14 and triggered severe flooding as it stalled over the Carolinas for days.

On Sept. 18, the deputies, in a marked sheriff’s department vehicle, were waved through a barricade near the Little Pee Dee River by National Guardsmen charged with keeping motorists out of the area, according to authorities. As waters swirled around the van, the two deputies were unable to free the women, who were locked in a compartment in the back, officials said.

Rescue crews needed about 45 minutes to find the van, which was underwater at that point, and plucked the Horry County deputies from the roof, authorities said.

According to the lawsuits, the deputies were “acting in accordance with the policies and procedures created by” the consulting firm on the night the women were swept away. Their deaths were the culmination of a series of failures, such as the deputies not being able to provide their location to first responders, or maintain “the equipment, training, practice, procedure, and protocol to complete a safe transport," according to the suits.

Specifically, the department “lacked any policy related to mental health patients and their transport” and “maintained insufficient policies, procedures, and training for routine law enforcement function," the lawsuits read.

Representatives for Moseley did not immediately return an email message seeking comment Monday.

Fired from the Horry County Sheriff’s Office a month after the deaths as part of an internal investigation, the two officers driving the women also face criminal charges, including reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter. Their trial is expected later this year.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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