On August 24, 47-year-old Debbie Stevens had begun her usual paper route when she drove into floodwaters.
As Fox News reports, after the flash flood had swept up her vehicle, it began filling up with water. Stevens called 911 begging for help, fearing that she would drown because she couldn’t swim.
Sadly, Stevens did drown that day. Now, a recording of Stevens’ 911 call has been “reluctantly” released, and many are shocked by the dispatcher’s behavior towards Stevens.
According to Fox News, Stevens call with the dispatcher, now identified as Donna Reneau, last 22 minutes. It was reportedly Reneau’s last shift as a dispatcher for the Fort Smith Police Department.
At the start of the call, Stevens is unable to tell Reneau where she’s at, saying the water is already “all the way up my windows.” She later describes her vehicle as a dark gray SUV.
During the call, Stevens tells Reneau, “Please help me, I don’t want to die! I can’t swim! I’m scared! I’m going to drown!” Stevens added that she didn’t see the water until she came up on it.
Soon into the call, Stevens gets increasingly nervous and begins to freak out. Reneau continuously tells Stevens that she’s not going to drowned and that she needs to “calm down.”
Eventually, after Stevens asks “how long is it gonna take” until first responders reach her, Reneau explained that she didn’t “have an officer available, so it’s gonna take a minute.”
Minutes later, Stevens asks again through tears, “when are they gonna get here?” adding that her “brand new” phone is going to be ruined by the water as it gets increasingly higher. Reneau simply states, “When they get there,” before saying:
“Do you really care about your brand new phone? I mean, you’re over there crying for your life. Who cares about your phone?”
Reneau could also be heard telling the terrified woman to “shut up” and even lecturing her about driving in those types of weather conditions:
“Well this will teach you, next time don’t drive in the water. I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it, so.”
(Warning: Some people may find the below recording of the 911 call disturbing.)
As Fox News reports, it took 12 minutes for first responders to find Stevens’ vehicle, but due to the floodwaters, it was nearly an hour before anyone was able to actually reach her.
It was too late, and Stevens had drowned by the time her SUV was “secured.”
A news release issued by the Fort Smith Police Department read in part:
…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.
Chief of Police Danny Baker said that Reneau’s behavior was not illegal in any way. However, he “completely understand[s] the disgust and the concern that we all have. We all hope that we would get a little better response.”
Chief Baker then added in the same press release:
“I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life, and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends. 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.”