911 Dispatcher Berates Woman As She Drowns in Flash Flood: ‘This Will Teach You’ Not to Drive in Water


A woman in Fort Smith, Arkansas was caught in a flash flood and ultimately drowned last Saturday after emergency responders were unable to rescue her. They were on scene because the victim, Debra Stevens, called 911. It was during that call that she was told to “shut up” and berated for “putting herself in danger”.

She was also, unbelievably, told that this would “teach” her a lesson. The 911 operator, Donna Reneau, has not been officially reprimanded, though members of the community are outraged following the release of audio from the call along with bodycam footage from police attempting to find her vehicle and rescue her.

“This will teach you next time don’t drive in the water,” said Reneau at one point. When Stevens apologized to the operator and said she hadn’t seen the flood waters rising, Reneau replied, “I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it, so…”

At another point, a crying and desperate Stevens said “I’m going to to die, I’m scared,” and “somebody save me.” Reneau replied, “am I not on the phone with you trying to get you some help? Okay then stop.”

Stevens said “I’m sorry” and that she just wanted them to get there before she died, and Reneau snapped “you’re not gonna die, I don’t know why you’re freaking out.” When Stevens asked when the rescuers would arrive, Reneau said “as soon as they get there.”

CBS affiliate KFSM-TV’s 5News released the audio of the call, with the very final moments removed for the sake of the victim and family, stating on their website: “Though it was a difficult decision, we have decided to broadcast and post the 911 call for help after concerns were raised as to how dispatchers and first responders handled the situation.”

In that same openness, and with the same warning that this content may be very disturbing for listeners, here is that audio.


Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker released a statement:

“I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends. All of our first responders who attempted to save Mrs. Stevens are distraught over the outcome. 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 operator, Reneau, was on her last shift at the time of the call, having put in her notice two weeks earlier.

“We can’t investigate someone who no longer works here, said Chief Baker. But he also indicated that she probably wouldn’t have been fired even if she hadn’t already left the department, telling reporters that “the manner that she spoke during this conversation would have probably been addressed, but it would have been more a rudeness quality type service complaint. I don’t think it would have risen to the level of terminating someone.”

He said they are looking at “an investigation into our policies, our responses, our dispatch center.”

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