A woman in Arkansas drowned after being ridiculed by a 911 operator. Debra Stevens, 47, was in her car delivering the local paper when a flash flood hit. She found herself trapped in the car and called 911 for help, but records show that medics didn’t arrive until more than an hour later. By the time they arrived, Stevens had drowned.
Last week, the Police Department made the decision to release the 911 recording, though it noted it did so with “great reluctance.” On the recording, you can hear Stevens crying and begging for help.
You can listen to the 911 dispatch call below.
Dispatcher Donna Reneau answered the call and can be heard berating Stevens as she cries out for help. “You’re not gonna die, I don’t know why you’re freaking out,” Reneau can be heard saying at one point. “I know the water level is high…but you freaking out doing nothing but losing your oxygen level up in there, so calm down.”
Stevens said that she was worried she was going to die and that her phone is brand-new at one point during the call to which Reneau responds, “Do you really care about your brand-new phone? You’re over there crying for your life.”
Despite the obvious negative tone heard from Reneau, Stevens is heard apologizing for being “rude,” noting that she’s never been in this situation before.
“Well, this will teach you; next time don’t drive in the water,” Reneau tells her in response.
According to a timeline shared by the Police, medics arrived at 4:50 a.m., about 15 minutes after Stevens had initially made the call. However, they had trouble locating her. While they searched for her and her car, Stevens was still on the phone with Reneau who continued to tell her she would be fine.
Towards the end of the call, Stevens yelled out her location in an attempt to make dispatchers hear her. Reneau responded, “Ms. Debbie, you’re going to have to shut up, OK?”
Minutes later, the call ends with Stevens screaming.
Nearly an hour and 20 minutes after Stevens initially made the call, rescuers finally reached her car by boat, but “she had tragically succumbed to drowning,” the Police Department reported.
After sharing the audio, the community was incensed by the “disrespect and disregard that was shown to the victim. “She, and her employer, need to assume their responsibility in the dispatcher’s actions. She was trained better than that, I’m sure.”
The Police Department’s interim chief shared during a press conference that the call came in during Reneau’s last shift as she had recently quit. However, he noted, that the department was currently investigating the incident, particularly how they respond to flooding.
Stevens is being remembered by her community. “If people were willing to give themselves like she did, I think our city, our state, and our country would be a lot better,” Fort Smith’s city director, Neal Martin, shared.
When I’m not hanging out with my three-year-old and husband in Brooklyn, I’m busy writing stories for Mamas Uncut and managing PR + Marketing for Magnolia Bakery, based in New York City. On weekends, you can usually find me at a local park or playground pushing my daughter on the swings, “researching” the best almond croissants in Park Slope or launching into impromptu family dance parties at home, the sidewalk or, every once in awhile, a restaurant bathroom. I’m still trying to master the whole parenting thing, but I have learned that copious amounts of coffee, humor and humility are involved on a daily basis.