911 Dispatcher Who Told Woman To “Shut Up” Minutes Before Drowning Cleared of Wrongdoing

written by @lessh

A former Arkansas 911 dispatcher was cleared of wrongdoing following accusations that she mishandled a call with a drowning woman, after telling her to “shut up” moments before her passing.

Debra Stevens, 47, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, died after her SUV got stuck in a flash flood while she was delivering newspapers for the Southwest Times. She drowned before first responders could reach her SUV.

On the day of her untimely death, Stevens called 911 and Donna Reneau answered her call. Sources say Stevens was the 15th call due to vehicles in floodwaters on the morning of Aug. 24., and 19 other calls were made following hers.

“I have an emergency — a severe emergency,” Stevens said during the call. “I can’t get out, and I’m scared to death, ma’am. Can you please help me?”

“I’m going to die,” Stevens cried later.

“You’re not going to die,” Reneau responded. “I don’t know why you’re freaking out … You freaking out is doing nothing but losing your oxygen in there. So, calm down.”

“I’m scared. I’ve never had anything happen to me like this before,” she said.

“Well, this will teach you next time, don’t drive in the water,” the operator said, later adding, “Miss Debbie, you’re going to have to shut up. OK. I need you to listen,” said the dispatcher.

The recording escalated outrage over the operator’s response, but, she was never charged in the incident. Now, after an internal investigation, authorities have officially cleared Reneau of any wrongdoing, insisting that “sincere efforts were being made” to save the drowning woman’s life during the call.

“Despite the manner in which Reneau spoke to Stevens, I can find no indication of negligence in Reneau’s actions in dispatching first responders, nor in the actions of those who responded to the scene,” Dean Pitts, the police department’s deputy director of administration, who led the internal review. “When dealing with someone during a critical incident, particularly when the person is in hysterics, it is often necessary to take a stern or commanding tone, or to even raise one’s voice,” he added, according to the Democrat-Gazette.

Sources said that Reneau had submitted her resignation earlier in August and was on her last shift when Stevens’s call came in. But in regards to the call, she reportedly said, “She regretted telling her she was not going to die most of all, but she also regretted not being more kind and understanding,” and that “she realized she should not have said some of the things she did.”

911 Operator Cleared

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