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Woman Who Drowned Called 911 for Help, Got Scolded

Dispatcher was working her last shift
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2019 5:00 PM CDT
Floodwaters cover streets in May in Fort Smith, Arkansas.   (Hannah Grabenstein/AP)

(Newser) – An Arkansas woman was delivering newspapers early Saturday when water pushed her SUV off the road, into a grove of trees. Unable to get out of the vehicle, Debra Stevens called 911 for help. What she got was a lecture. "This will teach you next time, don’t drive in the water," Donna Reneau told her, the recording shows. "I don't see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it. So?" Stevens had drowned by the time first responders reached her, NWAhomepage reports. "I completely understand the disgust and concern" about the dispatcher's response, Fort Smith's interim police chief said. "It’s a tragic thing, I understand that."

Reneau had already resigned as a 911 dispatcher and was working her last shift. She was on the phone with Stevens, 47, for more than 20 minutes as the water rose, per the Democrat-Gazette; more than 4 inches of rain fell on Fort Smith that morning. Still, Reneau berated her, sometimes yelling. "I don’t know why you’re freaking out," she said at one point. Reneau is a certified dispatch training officer who had worked as a Fort Smith dispatcher for five years. Officials said that they're looking into the case but that Reneau didn't do anything criminally wrong. "Obviously we can’t investigate someone who no longer works here," the chief said. (Read more 911 call stories.)

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