Emergency call handler lectured woman who drowned on phone: 'I don't know why you're freaking out'
Police in Arkansas have launched an investigation after a "callous and uncaring" dispatcher seemingly mocked a woman during the final moments of her life.
Debra Stevens, 47, was delivering newspapers around 5 am on Saturday when a flash flood swept her vehicle into a "copse of trees off the roadway". As the floodwaters started to rise around her, Stevens dialed emergency services.
Operator Donna Reneau, who had put in her two-weeks notice earlier that month, was working her final shift when she received the call from Stevens, the Times Record reports. Reneau had worked for the Fort Smith Police Department for five years, serving as a certified trainer for new employees, and was named fire dispatcher of the year in February, according to KFSM.
On Thursday, the Fort Smith Police Department released the audio of the troubling 911 call, due to numerous requests from the media.
"The recording contains the audio of a dying person's last moments as well as the interaction between her and the operator," a press release from the department warns. "And while the operator's response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds callous and uncaring at times, sincere efforts were being made to locate and save Mrs. Stevens."
"Please help me. I don't wanna die," Stevens is heard saying in the audio recording, published by 5 News Online.
"You're not going to die — hold on for a minute," Reneau responded.
When Stevens said she was scared, the operator said, "I understand that you're scared but there's nothing I can do sitting in a chair so you're going to have to hold on and I'm going to send you somebody, OK? You're not going to die. I don't know why you're freaking out. It's OK. I know the water level is high."
"I'm scared. I'm sorry," Stevens said, before asking when help would arrive.
"As soon as they get there," Reneau said.
Eight minutes into the call, Stevens told Reneau that she was going to die. Reneau then appeared to chastise the woman for driving into the water, which Stevens said she did not see.
Sixteen minutes into the call, Stevens said that the waters were up to her neck; 20 minutes into the call she screamed that she couldn't breathe. According to the Times Record, Reneau also told Stevens to "shut up".
"Miss Debbie, you are breathing just fine, because you are screaming at me. So calm down, hold on for me," Reneau said.
Just three minutes later, Stevens sounds as though she is speaking underwater.
According to police, Reneau dispatched Fort Smith Fire and Police units, however, they had difficulty locating Stevens, as she was unable to describe her exact location.
"When first responders were finally able to pinpoint the location of Mrs. Stevens' vehicle, the swift, rising water made immediate rescue impossible," the release states. "An officer on scene removed his duty gear, donned a life vest, and was ready to enter the current tied to a rope but the speed and volume of water made this attempt futile. When first responders were finally able to reach Mrs. Stevens and extract her from the vehicle, she had tragically succumbed to drowning."
"I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra's family and friends," interim Police Chief Danny Baker said in the release. "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.
According to the Times Record, Reneau will not face disciplinary action for her actions.
"Obviously, we can't investigate someone who no longer works here," Baker reportedly said. "However, (we've launched) an investigation into our responses, our policies, our dispatch centre. I've been in communication with the fire chief, and we're looking at how we can enhance our training for our dispatchers."
- This article first appeared on Yahoo