NewsNational News


Arkansas police probe 911 dispatcher after caller drowns

Posted at 6:21 PM, Aug 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-30 19:22:04-04

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - Authorities in Arkansas are investigating after a now-former 911 dispatcher scolded a frantic newspaper delivery woman for driving into floodwaters before she drowned.

Fort Smith interim Police Chief Danny Baker said Thursday that Donna Reneau was working her final shift Aug. 24 when Debra Stevens died. Reneau had given her notice two weeks earlier.

Police spokesman Aric Mitchell said Friday that Reneau dispatched emergency personnel to find Stevens, 47, who'd driven into an apartment complex parking lot to try to avoid flooding.

"I guess she just didn't realize she was driving into water," said Mitchell, noting the incident happened before dawn amid heavy rain.

In the 911 recording, released by police as part of the internal investigation, Stevens was heard crying and begging for help, saying she could not swim.

"Please send somebody fast," Stevens told the dispatcher. The call lasted 22 minutes before getting disconnected at 5 a.m., according to the police timeline. Reneau responded by telling Stevens to calm down before saying, "I'm not going to let you die."

Stevens was heard sobbing and repeated "Please help me," saying the water was up to her neck. Reneau told Stevens that help was on the way, then scolded her.

"This will teach you next time don't drive in the water," Reneau said. "We'll get you help and get you out of there."

According to the police timeline, emergency crews used life vests, ropes and a rescue boat trying to locate and save Stevens.

"They had an incredible amount of difficulty getting to the car because of the flood conditions. They just weren't able to get to her on time," Mitchell said.

Stevens' body was recovered from her SUV in a nearby creek shortly before 6 a.m.

Messages left at phone numbers for Reneau weren't immediately returned Friday.