A transport van carrying two mental health patients had been approved by National Guardsmen to drive past a barricade following Hurricane Florence before the passengers drowned inside, officials confirmed.
Authorities questioned earlier this month why the van had driven past a barrier onto a flooded Marion County road in South Carolina on Sept. 18 after the hurricane had hit, and two state deputies were placed on leave during an investigation by state police.
A spokeswomen for the Horry County Sheriff’s Office now says the vehicle had been officially cleared.
“It was waved through by the National Guardsmen,” Brooke Holden told The Associated Press. “Because the van was a Horry County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement vehicle, that is the main reason why it fell under that order.”
Wendy Newton, 45, and Nicolette Green, 43, were being transported to a mental health facility in the back of the van when the vehicle became submerged with water. Newton and Green had been involuntarily committed by a physician.
The deputies, Joshua Bishop and Stephen Flood, attempted to free the women from the back of the van, to no avail, and the vehicle was underwater by the time rescue workers arrived.
An internal investigation by the Horry County Sheriff is ongoing, and the deputies remain on administrative leave.
Last week, state lawmaker Justin Bamberg called for an explanation as to why the deputies had driven onto the road.
“People need to know exactly how it happened,” Bamberg said. “It makes it seem like someone took a very unnecessary risk in creating the problem in the first place.”
Hurricane Florence made landfall on Sept. 14, resulting in dozens of deaths and millions of dollars worth of damage in the Carolinas.