An Arkansas 911 dispatcher has faced criticism after she was recorded scorning a woman who was drowning. As USA Today reports, 47-year-old Debra Stevens asked for help after she drove her car into water. Audio of the incident has surfaced online, and at one point, the dispatcher told Stevens to shut up, moments before she died from drowning.
Stevens called and explained that water was "all the way up to my windows, and I can't get out, and I'm scared to death ma'am." The dispatcher on call was identified as Donna Reneau, who was on her last shift as a dispatcher at the Fort Smith Police Department. In a statement, the department said that firefighters and officers were "inundated with 911 calls from other citizens also stranded in flood waters." Police have also called the dispatcher "callous and uncaring."
"Can you please help me?" Stevens asked Reneau. As she drowned in the car, Stevens explained that she was afraid, but Reneau insisted that she was "going to have to hold on." Just after 10 minutes into the call, Reneau scolded her for driving into water.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I didn't see it," she replied. "I don't see how you didn't see it," Reneau remarked. She also told her, "A lot of people aren't going to put themselves in danger just because you put yourself in danger."
Stevens interrupted Reneau's instructions on how to stay calm as the water reached her neck. "Shut up," she said to Stevens as she drowned.
"I can't breathe," the drowning woman screamed. "Miss Debbie, you are breathing just fine, because you are screaming at me. So calm down," Reneau said. The audio can be heard below via a CNN report, although it is disturbing so watch with discretion.
Interim Police Chief Danny Baker released a statement following the incident.
"I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends," said Baker. "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."