911 Operator Scolded Woman Trapped In Floodwaters Before She Drowned

Holly Matkin

Fort Smith Police Department 911 Dispatcher Donna Reneau was on the phone with Debra Stevens in her final moments.

Fort Smith, AR – A Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) 911 dispatcher callously belittled and scolded a woman who ultimately ended up drowning before police could rescue her from raging floodwaters.

Donna Reneau had already submitted her resignation and was working her last shift as a FSPD 911 operator when she took a call from 47-year-old Debra Stevens at approximately 4:38 a.m. on Aug. 24, NCB News reported.

Stevens was out delivering newspapers when her vehicle was swept off of the roadway by rising floodwaters.

Her SUV came to rest in a patch of trees, but the water continued to rise and Stevens had never learned to swim, NBC News reported.

She frantically called 911 and attempted to tell Reneau where she was located.

“The water’s all the way up to my windows!” she told the dispatcher in the 911 audio recording. “Please help me! I don’t want to die!”

“You’re not gonna die. Hold on for a minute,” Reneau replied. “You’re not gonna drown. Just calm down.”

As the water rose up to her neck, Stevens tearfully explained how the gushing flood swept her vehicle away before she even realized what was happening.

“I’m gonna die,” the frightened woman sobbed. “I need to call and tell my mommy bye.”

Stevens then said that she wanted to try to get out and swim, but that she didn’t know how.

“Somebody save me,” she begged.

“Am I not on the phone with you trying to get you some help?” Reneau replied. “Okay? So stop…You’re not gonna die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out.”

Stevens urged police to hurry, and asked the dispatcher how long it would take them to reach her.

“As soon as they get there,” Reneau told her.

Stevens also expressed concern that her phone was going to get wet and die, preventing rescuers from being able to locate her.

“Do you really care about your brand-new phone?” the dispatcher retorted. “I mean, you’re over there crying for your life. Who cares about your phone?”

When the petrified woman said that she felt like she was going to vomit, Reneau told her to just do it.

“You’re in water,” she pointed out. “It’s not gonna matter.”

At one point during her call for help, Stevens begged Reneau to pray with her.

“You go ahead and start of the prayer and I’ll listen to you. I sure will,” the dispatcher replied.

Reneau assured Stevens that officers and the fire department had both been dispatched to her location.

“This will teach you next time – don’t drive in the water,” the dispatcher scolded her. “I don’t see how you didn’t see it. You had to go right over it, so…The water just didn’t appear.”

The dispatcher asked Stevens how tall she was, and told her that she could probably stand up in the water outside her vehicle and keep her head above it.

“It’s higher than me!” Stevens sobbed.

“I don’t think so,” Reneau responded.

Stevens told her she was only five feet tall.

“Okay, well you’re not three-foot, so you’ll be just fine,” the dispatcher concluded.

Rescuers were inundated with calls for help, and pulled at least one other person to safety before they were able to respond to Stevens’ location.

Reneau told Stevens that multiple people had called 911 to get help for her.

“They’re not gonna get their self in danger because you put yourself in danger,” the dispatcher admonished.

Stevens repeatedly apologized throughout the call, and at one point thanked Reneau for being on the phone with her.

Rescuers struggled to pinpoint the desperate woman’s exact location, and Stevens frantically tried to explain where she was.

“Miss Debbie, you’re gonna have to shut up, okay?” Reneau snapped at one point during the fury of radio communications.

As first responders raced to find Stevens, she suddenly began screaming that the water was sweeping her vehicle away.

The 911 call was disconnected at 5 a.m., according to a FSPD press release.

First responders spotted Stevens’ vehicle two minutes later, but the dangerous waters thwarted their efforts to reach her.

"When first responders were finally able to pinpoint the location of Mrs. Stevens’ vehicle, the swift, rising water made immediate rescue impossible,” Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker said in a statement, according to NBC News. “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.”

A rescue boat arrived at the scene at 5:16 a.m., and rescuers pulled Stevens from the SUV at 5:58 a.m.

By then, she had already drowned.

Chief Baker said that he was “heartbroken” that they were unable to find her in time.

"All of our first responders who attempted to save Mrs. Stevens are distraught over the outcome,” he said, according to NBC News. “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.”

The chief acknowledged that “the operator’s response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds calloused and uncaring at times,” but he said that Reneau made “sincere efforts…to locate and save Ms. Stevens,” NBC News reported.

Reneau was a certified dispatch training officer, and had been with the FSPD for five years.

She was named as Fire Dispatcher of the Year in February, according to an FSPD Facebook post.

Chief Baker said he was confident that Reneau and the rescuers did everything possible to save Stevens, but that the department will be looking “into our policies, our responses, our dispatch center...We're looking at what we can do to increase training for our dispatchers in regards to swift water rescue and other things,” NBC News reported.

Because Reneau had already submitted her resignation weeks prior to the incident, an internal investigation into how she handled the situation would be pointless, Chief Baker told KARK.

“Obviously we can’t investigate someone who no longer works here,” he explained.

The SFPD released the 911 call with “great reluctance” after receiving “numerous requests” from the media, the agency said in a press release.

Comments (31)
No. 1-14

Embarrassing is an understatement... If it wasn't her last day, she would have been terminated. Hopefully her next job has nothing to do with public safety, because no one should have do deal with her!!


Is it just me or do Dispatchers all seem to have the same look?


Just thinking that bitch's voice was the last thing she heard before she died . Hopefully karma will come at her in a big way .


Drown her.


She shouldn’t have been taking calls if she had already resigned and it was her last shift. Management error, lack of foresight, lack of consideration of risk for the public and liability for the centre.


What a ROTTEN POS Person "Fort Smith Police Department 911 Dispatcher Donna Reneau was on the phone with Debra Stevens in her final moments." I Sincerely hope someone just like her is on the phone with her when something horrific like this is happening to her !!! Karma B*tch you deserve a Double Dose !!


Last shift or not - you’d need to have ice for blood in order to gloss over praying with another person that frightened. What’s her next field of profession? Palliative Care?

Burgers Allday
Burgers Allday

Climate change is a b****h.


a simple word would have helped greatly .....It is "compassion" and this Dispatcher had little to none.


Wow! What an A-Hole...


This woman had no business of being in this profession!!! Can see why she left after only 5 years. I retired 9 years ago as a dispatcher after 30 years service and never in my days, even as bad as mood I would be in at times, go off on a caller, officer of firefighter. I kept a professional attitude about me at all times and even put in the huomor to some calls. In this business humor is what you need, everyone in the radio room and out in the field enjoyed it, except for one certain supervisor...


your are the worst of the worst.i hope you hear her voice for the rest of your life. you mean bitch couldnt even been nice of enough to even pray with her i hate people like you..... RIP miss stevens so sorry this happened to you

Gap Filler
Gap Filler

This lady's surviving family should sue for negligence


I know it sounds harsh. I sat a moment and thought for a while. This woman was in a terrible position, both women in fact. I'd rather someone tell me "you're not gonna die dum dum", than someone telling me "yep, you're a goner" if I were in that position. I would be one of many people who would've gone to work and took the risk because if there were no disaster, it would've been a disciplinary action or being fired if it weren't. What company failed to call her and tell her her to NOT deliver those papers or to NOT go into work that day? It must've been super important to her to get that work done and earn that pay rather than thinking about her safety. I've personally risked my life to drive into work because I knew that others wouldn't be able to and honestly couldn't afford to miss that day of pay. That operator knew she was DONE with that job but gave her notice like a responsible person should, it just happened to be that her empathy was tapped that day. People overreact, she probably thought this woman was secure in her car like most people would think. The thing that gets me is, how is she ever going to live with herself denying a mother from hearing their dear child that one last time. Thing is, her mother got the message. It's just a sad crappy situation that we cannot avoid because it's done, the question is: will they learn from it? Probably not.