In the time of a real emergency, Americans rely on 911 dispatchers to give them the help they need as fast as possible and ensure that rescue is able to locate them if necessary. Unfortunately, some dispatchers fall short of completing this very important job. Debra Stevens of Fort Smith, Arkansas was a newspaper delivery person. While delivering papers in the early morning of August 24, Stevens found herself in a dangerous situation. Her vehicle was being swept away by strong floodwaters. She called 911 and the dispatcher who answered her call was not only cruel and uncaring, but failed to give her the help she so desperately needed, according to Today.
This dispatcher who answered Stevens’ call was Donna Reneau. When Stevens told Reneau of the precarious situation she was in and that she was unable to swim, Reneau was cold and indifferent. As Stevens became even more panicked and the flood waters began to become increasingly high, Reneau admonished Stevens for allowing herself to get in this kind of situation in the first place.
She rebuked her for her panicked pleas for help and made harsh remarks such as “You’re not going to die” and “I don’t know why you’re freaking out.”
At one point, Reneau even told Stevens to learn from the experience.
“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?”
We declined to release the audio of the phone call between #DebraStevens and dispatcher #DonnaReneau, but have included a transcribed timeline of the conversation. Warning, it is disturbing in nature.https://t.co/Rya26kpDue
— Max Bryan (@MBryanTimesRec) August 30, 2019
Unfortunately, these cold remarks are some of the last words that Stevens ever heard before drowning to death in the floodwater.
The police of Fort Smith, Arkansas had to apologize for Reneau’s behavior. She’s also no longer in her position. In a public statement, the police department emphasized that though Reneau hardly sounded like she was being at all helpful during the call, a rescue team was all the while trying to get to Stevens to assist her. Sadly, they simply weren’t fast enough.
“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,” the statement read.
Police went on to describe just how disheartened they were that their team hadn’t been able to get to Stevens in time.
“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,” said Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker.