A former 911 dispatcher in Arkansas is under fire for the callous way she spoke to a woman stuck in floodwaters who eventually drowned.
Debra Stevens, 47, of Fort Smith, was delivering newspapers the morning of Aug. 24 when her car washed off a road and she was unable to escape. She called 911 and was connected with dispatcher Donna Reneau, who was working her last shift for the Fort Smith Police Department, according to local station KARK TV.
According to the disturbing audio recording of the call, Reneau told the panicked Stevens — who said the water was up to her neck — to “shut up,” and at one point, scolded her: “This will teach you next time don’t drive in the water … I don’t see how you didn’t see it.”
In the video above, Reneau can be heard telling Stevens that rescue workers were “not gonna get themself in danger because you put yourself in danger.”
According to a department release posted last week on Facebook, Reneau was inundated with calls from other citizens also stranded in floodwaters.
Officers said Stevens had trouble describing her exact location, which made it hard for first responders to reach her. According to the release: “An officer on scene removed his duty gear, donned a life vest, and was ready to enter the current tied to a rope but the speed and volume of water made this attempt futile.”
“When first responders were finally able to reach Mrs. Stevens and extract her from the vehicle, she had tragically succumbed to drowning,” the release read.
Interim Police Chief Danny Baker said Reneau had been on the job for five years before officially resigning Aug. 9. Baker told the Southwest Times Record that Reneau would have faced disciplinary action if she was still employed, but also said he didn’t observe anything in the phone call that would have warranted termination or a criminal investigation.
Baker said there would be an internal investigation to see if any policies should be changed to prevent deaths like Stevens’. He told reporters that Reneau may have underestimated the importance of the call and failed to urge officers to respond to it appropriately.
“Obviously, we can’t investigate someone who no longer works here. However, (we’ve launched) an investigation into our responses, our policies, our dispatch center,” Baker said. “I’ve been in communication with the fire chief, and we’re looking at how we can enhance our training for our dispatchers.”
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