People are outraged at Arkansas police after the recording of a 911 operator telling a woman to ‘sh*t up’ while she was caught in a flash flood was made public.
47-year-old Debra Stevens was on her job of newspaper delivery for the Southwest Times Record early in the morning of August 24, 2019, according to the statement released by the Fort Smith Police Department.
The first rescue team arrived at the site, more than an hour after the victim called for help and by that time she had drowned.
After numerous requests from a number of news agencies and with ‘great reluctance,’ the police released the audio recording of the 911 call made by Debra while she was drowning in the flash flood.
The 22-minute long recording of the 911 call has caused a tremendous wave of anger in the community. People are branding the dispatcher’s attitude towards the victim to be criminal, cold, and ruthless.
The audio was released on the internet by 5News and some other media outlets, after deleting the sensitive parts, obviously. The audio starts from the point when Debra called 911 for help at 04:38 as declared by the police.
A spokesperson for Arkansas police, Aric Mitchell, told BuzzFeed News that Donna Reneau was the dispatcher who handled the call. Earlier this year, Reneau was branded “fire dispatcher of the year” in a Facebook post from the department.
Mainly, the call includes Debra, the victim, crying for help and saying she doesn’t want to die while Reneau tries to calm her down, convincing her to wait patiently for the rescue team.
About 9 minutes after the start of the call, Debra cries and asked for someone to help her to which Reneau responds, “Am I not on the phone with you trying to get you some help? Then stop.”
“You’re not gonna die, I don’t know why you’re freaking out,” Reneau said. “I know the water level is high…but you freaking out doing nothing but losing your oxygen level up in there so calm down.”
At one point in the call, Donna shows concern about her brand new phone which is at high risk of water damage, Reneau can be heard apprehending her, saying: “Do you really care about your brand new phone? You’re over there crying for your life.”
When Donna tells Reneau that her car might catch fire, she replies, saying: “How? You’re under water.”
Congratulations to Donna Reneau for being selected as the Fire Dispatcher of the Year!
Ten minutes in to the call, Debra says sorry to Reneau for being rude but she says it is the first time she’s in such a situation.
“Well this will teach you next time don’t drive in the water,” Reneau replied.
Donna tries to explain how she never got a chance of getting out of the harm’s way, saying that the water was not visible until she was struck by it and she couldn’t watch out for it in due time.
Reneau responded to this, saying: “The water just didn’t appear.”
According to the police, the responding units approached the site of the incident within 15 minutes of the report, at 4:50 am to be exact, but they had a hard time locating Debra and her car.
According to the department, the rescue effort was stalled due to Debra “having trouble describing her exact location and flooding limited the ability of first responders to reach her.”
Throughout the duration when the rescue team was trying to locate Debra, Reneau stayed on the call with her to make sure she was fine.
At 19 minutes into the call, Debra was shouting her location at the best of her lungs to which Reneau responded, saying: “Ms. Debbie, you’re going to have to shut up, OK?”
The call ends at 22 minutes and Debra can be heard letting out her last desperate scream, the last cry for help.
Due to a number of factors causing hindrance in the mission, the police reached Debra’s car an hour and 20 minutes after she reported her accident to 911.
The department gave a statement about the incident, saying: “When first responders were finally able to reach Mrs. Stevens and extract her from the vehicle, she had tragically succumbed to drowning.”
The audio caused outrage among the local residents as soon as it was made public.
“The disrespect and disregard that was shown to the victim is disgusting and horrifyingly sad,” a woman from Fort Smith wrote on social media. “She, and her employer, need to assume their responsibility in the dispatcher’s actions. She was trained better than that, I’m sure.”
In an interview after the release of the audio, Danny Baker, the police chief, said: “However, at the end of the day, we were working diligently to get to her, we were doing everything we possibly could to save her.”
Debra’s friends and colleagues say she was a dedicated person, who has always remained loyal to her work.
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