A 911 dispatcher told a drowning woman to “shut up” in the moments before she died on August 24, reports said.
Audio recording of the phone call revealed that dispatcher Donna Reneau of Fort Smith, Arkansas, spoke callously to Debbie Stevens, 47, who was on a paper route in the 5800 block of Kinkead Avenue when her car was caught in a flash flood.
“Please help me; I don’t want to die!” Stevens says on the recording. “I can’t swim! I’m scared! I’m going to drown!”
Reneau replied by telling her first responders would get there when they get there. At one point, Reneau says she’s not going to die and tells her to “shut up.”
Stevens tells the dispatcher she is “scared” and asks for prayer, to which Reneau responds, “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.”
Reports said the initial 911 call was received at 4:38 a.m., and first responders were dispatched two minutes later. They arrived at the scene at 4:53 a.m. but could not reach Stevens immediately because of the high water.
“Due to high waters, it took more than an hour from Stevens’ 911 call for first responders to make direct contact with her,” according to CBS 5 News. However, by the time they reached Stevens, she had died.
In a statement to the media, Fort Smith Chief of Police Danny Baker said he is “heartbroken” over the tragic loss of life.
“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,” he concluded.
Reports said Reneau had resigned from her position two weeks prior to when the incident occurred and was on her final shift as a dispatcher.
Baker told reporters that although Reneau’s response was “calloused and uncaring at times,” she did nothing “criminally wrong” and nothing that “violated policy.”
“I completely understand the disgust and the concern that we all have. We all hope that we would get a little better response,” he said.