911 Dispatcher Mocked Woman As She Drowned

by : Cameron Frew on : 02 Sep 2019 09:59

Warning: Contains Distressing Content

911 Dispatcher Donna Reneau Debra Stevens911 Dispatcher Donna Reneau Debra StevensKHBS/Fort Smith Police Department/Facebook

As an Arkansas woman prayed for her life when her SUV became surrounded by water, a 911 dispatcher did little to comfort her in what ended up being her final moments. 

Debra Stevens was delivering newspapers in Fort Smith, US, when she suddenly drove into floodwaters – she didn’t mean to, she hadn’t seen the water on the road.

Watch ABC News‘ report below: 


The 47-year-old’s frantic emergency call came in the early hours of August 24 – as Stevens begged for assurance that she people were coming to help her, the Fort Smith Police Department have conceded the response sounded ‘calloused and uncaring at times’.

‘I have an emergency – a severe emergency. I can’t get out, and I’m scared to death, ma’am. Can you please help me?’ Stevens pleaded over the phone.

The 911 dispatcher, Donna Reneau, replied: 

You’re not going to die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out… You freaking out is doing nothing but losing your oxygen in there. So, calm down.

It had been Donna Reneau’s final shift after resigning. As Stevens grew more and more hysterical as water continued to fill her vehicle, the dispatcher’s tone did not improve.

Debra StevensDebra StevensKHBS

Stevens began to cry uncontrollably, continually apologising for her panic and eventually asking Reneau to pray with her. ‘Please help and get me out of this water, dear Father,’ she said.

Reneau replied:


This will teach you next time don’t drive in the water… I don’t know how you didn’t see it. You had to go right over it. The water just didn’t appear.

Reneau was trying to co-ordinate an emergency response to rescue Stevens, but there was confusion over her location. Meanwhile, Stevens continued to weep.

At one point, as Stevens began to really freak out, Reneau said: 

Miss Debbie, you’re going to have to shut up, OK? I need you to listen, listen to me.

Eventually, Stevens became submerged. It wasn’t until 58 minutes after the call that rescuers recovered her body.

Fort Smith police released a statement outlining that while the call may seem uncaring, genuine efforts were made to rescue Stevens before she died.

As reported by CNN, the statement said: 

The recording contains the audio of a dying person’s last moments as well as the interaction between her and the 911 operator.

And 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.

Police spokesman Aric Mitchell said the 911 operator had submitted her two weeks’ notice on August 9.

Mitchell said: ‘The incident will certainly lead to us looking at policies within our existing Communications Unit but we have not completed a review at this time to make specific determinations.’


However, he added that Reneau acted within the force’s guidelines. ‘She did nothing criminally wrong,’ Mitchell said. ‘I’m not even going to go so far as to she violated policy.’

You can listen to most of the call below. Warning: some viewers may find it distressing:

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: News, US News


CNN and 1 other
  1. CNN

    Arkansas woman drowns in a flood after 911 dispatcher scolds her during her final minutes

  2. ABC News

    911 dispatcher under fire for chastising woman who later died drowning in flash flood