WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- An Arkansas 911 dispatcher in Arkansas is being criticized for the insensitive way she spoke to a distressed woman stuck inside a vehicle in floodwaters.
- Dispatcher Donna Reneau, who was working her last shift for the Fort Smith Police Department, had been on the job for five years before she officially tendered her resignation on Aug. 9.
- When first responders reached Debra Stevens, 47, “she had tragically succumbed to drowning.”
A female 911 dispatcher in Arkansas is being highly-criticized for the insensitive way she spoke to a woman stuck inside a vehicle in floodwaters. Debra Stevens, 47, of Fort Smith eventually drowned.
On the early morning of Aug. 24, Stevens was delivering newspapers when her SUV washed off a road and she was unable to get out of the vehicle. She called 911 and was connected with a dispatcher who was working her last shift for the Fort Smith Police Department.
Local station KARK TV reported that dispatcher Donna Reneau had been on the job for five years before officially resigning Aug. 9.
During the call, Stevens informed Reneau that the water was up to her neck. She scolded her: “This will teach you next time don’t drive in the water … I don’t see how you didn’t see it.” At one point, the dispatcher told the panicked woman to “shut up.”
Reneau even told Stevens that rescue workers were “not gonna get themself in danger because you put yourself in danger.”
It was hard for first responders to reach Stevens because she had trouble telling the officers her exact location.
“When first responders were finally able to reach Mrs. Stevens and extract her from the vehicle, she had tragically succumbed to drowning,” a statement read.
Reneau had been on the job for five years, according to Interim Police Chief Danny Baker. Reneau would have faced disciplinary action if she was still employed. Baker also said he didn’t see anything in the phone call that would have warranted termination or a criminal investigation.
Baker confirmed that there would be an internal investigation to see if any policies should be changed to prevent deaths like Stevens’. He said that the dispatcher may have underestimated the importance of the call and failed to urge officers to respond to it appropriately.
“Obviously, we can’t investigate someone who no longer works here. However, (we’ve launched) an investigation into our responses, our policies, our dispatch center,” the chief said. “I’ve been in communication with the fire chief, and we’re looking at how we can enhance our training for our dispatchers.”