Two female mental patients chained in the back of a county sheriff's van drowned when the vehicle in which they were traveling was overcome by floodwaters, police said.
Officials say the van was traveling near the Little Pee Dee River, one of the bodies of water officials in SC are watching closely as water continues to poor into the state from upriver in North Carolina following the heavy rains of Florence.
According to Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson, the victims have been identified as Windy Newton, 45 of Shallotte, NC, and Nicolette Green, 43, of Myrtle Beach.
An autopsy is scheduled for Friday morning.
By the time a rescue team arrived, the deputies were stranded on top of the van and it was too late for the women.
Forecasters predict some rivers in the northeastern area of the state might not reach their highest levels until later this week or next week.
"Tonight's incident was a tragedy", Horry County sheriff Phillip Thompson said. 'Just like you, we have questions we want answered'.
Richardson says the women were being transported from a hospital in Horry County to medical facilities in Florence and Darlington.
WPDE-TV reported that the patients were being transported from Loris Hospital Waccamaw Center for Mental Health to McLeod Health.
The SCDOT added the driver of the vehicle had to go around a barrier to get stuck where they were.
"I know for many people this feels like a nightmare that just won't end", he said.
A resident surveys a road inundated by water in Lumberton, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, following flooding from Hurricane Florence. He said the two deputies involved had been placed on administrative leave and he had launched an internal investigation.
Two deputies tried to help the victims, but the floodwater rapidly rose and the deputies couldn't open the doors, according to the sheriff's office. The two Horry County deputies who were responsible for transporting the women attempted to save them, according to the law enforcement narrative, but were unsuccessful in their efforts.
The van couldn't be removed Tuesday night because of rising waters and unsafe conditions, according to the release. The two individuals being transported were confirmed dead by the Marion County Coroner.
We are working hand-in-hand with the State Law Enforcement Division to cooperate in this investigation.