Graphic Warning: This story and the accompanying audio and video are graphic in nature, and the content may be disturbing.
Though it was a difficult decision, we have decided to broadcast and post the 911 call for help after concerns were raised as to how dispatchers and first responders handled the situation.
FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — 911 audio recordings and body camera footage from Fort Smith police officers during their efforts to try and save a Fort Smith woman from last weekend’s flash flooding have been released. The audio files released are those of a woman’s last dying moments. On Monday (August 26) between dispatchers and first responders were released during their efforts to locate the woman.
You can listen to the 911 call in the audio file below. We warn you, some may find it difficult to listen to.
Update: The 911 audio has been edited to remove the final moments of the call.
Debra Stevens died around 6 a.m. Saturday (August 24) on Kinkead Avenue while delivering papers.
According to the Fort Smith Police Department, the 911 call came in at 4:38 a.m. First responders were dispatched at 4:40 a.m. The first crews on the scene arrived at 4:53 a.m., but were not close enough to reach Stevens’ because of high water. According to Aric Mitchell with the Fort Smith Police Department Stevens’ first call was to a family member. However, as floodwaters continued to rise around her, she dialed 911 from her cell phone.
Due to high waters, it took more than an hour from Stevens’ 911 call for first responders to make direct contact with her. Mitchell says that Stevens was having trouble describing her exact location and flooding limited the ability for first responders to locate her. By the time they got to where her vehicle was, it was too late.
Emergency crews tried to rescue Stevens but the water was too high and too fast. When first responders were finally able to pinpoint the location of Mrs. Stevens’ vehicle, the swift, rising water made immediate rescue impossible.
In the recording, you can hear first responders trying to take multiple routes to rescue her.
After Stevens vehicle became trapped in floodwaters, it floated into a creek at the end of the road. She was unable to escape and died as water filled her car.
The Fort Smith Police Department is attempting to remain as transparent as possible in this tragedy and has released a timeline of events:
The 911 dispatcher, Donna Reneau, can be heard telling Stevens “this will teach you next time don’t drive in the water…how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it.”
Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker released the following statement about the events from Saturday (August 24) morning:
“I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends. 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.”
Baker also addressed Reneau’s actions, saying “the manner that she spoke during this conversation would have probably been addressed, but it would have been more a rudeness quality type service complaint. I don’t think it would have risen to the level of terminating someone.”
Reneau, who is a certified dispatch trainer for new employees, put in her two weeks notice before this and that call came on her last day and final shift. She was named fire dispatcher of the year in February.
“We can’t investigate someone who no longer works here. However, an investigation into our policies, our responses, our dispatch center, I’ve talked to the fire chief, we are looking at what we can do to increase training for our dispatchers, swift water rescues and other things,” Baker said.
A memorial has been set up in remembrance for Stevens.
The dispatcher that handled Stevens’ call resigned two weeks ago and Saturday was her last shift, according to Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker.
A previous draft of this story stated the dispatcher was fired. This was corrected by Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker.