Police have released a 911 call from an Arkansas woman drowning in her car. What makes the call especially disturbing is the fact that the 911 dispatcher is belittling and uncaring towards the clearly frightened woman.
Debbie Stevens, 47, was driving her regular paper route in Fort Smith on August 24 when a flash flood hit her car and she found herself stuck in the vehicle with rising water. Stevens called 911 in a panic.
The call, which lasted approximately 22 minutes, consists of Stevens expressing her fear of death and the dispatcher responding with coldness.
“Please help me, I don’t want to die!” Stevens screams at one point.
She also reveals at another point in the call that she can’t swim.
“I can’t swim! I’m scared! I’m going to drown!” she says.
Donna Reneau, the dispatcher, tells Stevens at one point to “shut up.” She tells Stevens that she will not die and authorities will reach her quick enough that she doesn’t need to worry.
“I’m scared. I’ve never had anything happen to me like this before,” Stevens says at another point as water continues to rise in her SUV.
Reneau responds to Stevens by giving her a bizarre lecture.
“Well this will teach you, next time don’t drive in the water,” Reneau says to the woman. “I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it, so.”
What puts a dark cloud over the whole story is the fact that Stevens did not get the chance to learn from her mistake, as Reneau so coldly put it. Despite police arriving at the scene after 12 minutes, it took them more than an hour to get to Stevens’ actual vehicle and the woman drowned.
Reneau’s non-caring attitude may have had something to do with the fact that she was working her final shift when Stevens called. She had previously put her two weeks notice in at the Fort Smith Police Department.
Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker addressed Reneau’s controversial phone conversation in a statement where he acknowledged the woman’s “calloused” tactics.
He said while Reneau’s words were “calloused,” there were sincere efforts by first responders to help Stevens.
“The recording contains the audio of a dying person’s last moments as well as the interaction between her and the 911 operator. And while the operator’s response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds calloused and uncaring at times, sincere efforts were being made to locate and save Mrs. Stevens,” the statement reads.
“All of our first responders who attempted to save Mrs. Stevens are distraught over the outcome. For every one of us, saving lives is at the very core of who we are and why we do what we do. When we are unsuccessful, it hurts,” Baker later says in the statement.
Baker told KHBS that though Reneau’s actions are not commendable, the dispatcher did nothing “criminally wrong” and did not “violate policy.”
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