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Emergency dispatcher under fire after horrific 911 call is released featuring the dispatcher chastising a drowning woman

This is heartbreaking

Image source: KFSM-TV video screenshot

Fort Smith police in Arkansas are investigating the death of 47-year-old Debra Stevens, who accidentally drove into torrential floodwaters on Saturday morning.

Stevens was delivering newspapers around 4:40 a.m. when she inadvertently drove into rising waters.

She called authorities when she realized she was in trouble, and was met with a "callous and uncaring" dispatcher who was working her final shift.

What are the details?

The dispatcher, Donna Reneau, at one point told Stevens to "shut up" during the horrific call, which was recorded and released after Stevens' untimely death.

Reneau had submitted her two weeks' notice of resignation earlier in August and was working her last shift as a police dispatcher, according to Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker.

Reneau answered Stevens, who called 911 to report a "severe emergency."

In the recording, Stevens can be heard saying, "[My vehicle] veered off the road while I was delivering newspapers, and I'm flooded over here on the end of Kinkead, and it's all the way up to my windows, and I can't get out, and I'm scared to death, ma'am. Can you please help me?"

Stevens goes on to tell Reneau, who says she is contacting officers for assistance, that water is starting to flood the vehicle through its windows and she is unable to exit.

Stevens, who tells Reneau that she can't swim, becomes increasingly frantic as the floodwaters rise. Reneau tries to locate Stevens, and tells her that she's "got to have at least a little bit of an idea" where she is, since she'd been delivering newspapers.

"It's going to take a minute," Reneau says, pointing out that she doesn't have an officer available at the moment to assist Stevens, who is becoming more upset each passing second. Reneau tells Stevens that she can't do anything to allay her fears, as she is "sitting in a chair."

"[You're] going to have to hold on," Reneau insists while telling officers that Stevens' vehicle is filling up with water.

Stevens complains that there's no one helping her, a statement to which Reneau responds, "Am I not on the phone with you trying to get you some help?"

Crying, Stevens says her "brand-new phone" is about to die.

Reneau fires back, "Do you really care about your brand-new phone? You're over there crying for your life."

Stevens goes on to ask Reneau to pray with her. Reneau tells Stevens to go ahead and start the prayer. Much of what Stevens says is unclear beyond "Dear father, help me."

Stevens tells Reneau that the water has risen to her chest, and that she believes she will die.

Reneau responds by admonishing Stevens for driving through floodwaters.

"This will teach you next time don't drive in the water," she says. "I don't see how you didn't see it. You had to go right over it."

Stevens profusely apologizes, saying, "I'm sorry ma'am, I didn't see it. ... I was in the parking lot. There was no water where I was. When I was getting out of the parking lot, I was looking for the main road to get out, and as I got out to the main road, it was too late. I couldn't see it."

There won't be a next time, however, because Stevens ends up drowning alone in her car.

In a panic, Stevens says that she will disconnect the line to call a family member for help.

"You're going to make her drive out in all of this?" Reneau incredulously asks.

At this point, Stevens says the water is up to her neck, and is "getting higher and higher."

Reneau reveals that there is a first responder near the scene, but that he cannot locate her in the flood waters.

The vehicle begins to move on its own through the waters, and as the water rises, she can be heard yelling "I can't breathe!"

Reneau insists that Stevens is apparently breathing just fine because she is screaming at her and demands she calm down.

As Stevens apparently slips under water, she can be heard making gurgling sounds.

"Miss Debbie? Miss Debbie?" Reneau can be heard saying on the recording. "She's under water now."

A release on the incident says that "when first responders were finally able to reach Mrs. Stevens and extract her from the vehicle, she had tragically succumbed to drowning."

According to the Times Record, Stevens was known to most people as "Debbie," a "servant-hearted woman with a kind spirit." She was involved in a preschool church ministry at a local church.

City Director Neal Martin lamented the loss of Stevens, saying that she "was a model of being a servant, doing what God called you to do, and serving your community and friends."

What happened after she passed?

In a Thursday news conference, Baker said there wouldn't be an internal investigation because Reneau is no longer an employee.

"Obviously, we can't investigate someone who no longer works here," he said. "However, [we've launched] an investigation into our responses, our policies, our dispatch center. I've been in communication with the fire chief, and we're looking at how we can enhance our training for our dispatchers."

Baker said nine officers were patrolling the city when Stevens called in. Four dispatchers were answering seven different 911 phone lines at the time of the call.

Police Captain Wes Milam condemned Reneau's tone with Stevens.

“We field rudeness complaints regularly from our officers and our dispatchers, and I certainly don't tolerate it. I don't want us interacting with anyone in that way, whether it's a life or death situation or not," Baker said during the news event. “That's certainly something we have to look at and examine."

Baker added, "I don't think, other than family and friends, that there's anybody more heartbroken over the outcome of this incident than me, the members of the Police Department, the Fire Department, the dispatchers. We want to save lives. That's what we're about, and when we're not successful in doing that, it hurts — it hurts to the core. I believe that everything was done that was humanly possible, given the circumstances and at that time, to save Ms. Stevens' life. I am horribly sorry that wasn't possible."

Reneau has yet to publicly comment on the matter.

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