FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — At the end of August dramatic 911 audio of a Fort Smith woman who died in flash flooding was released. Now another woman is coming forward, saying her fate could have been the same.
Janet Smith says she can’t stop thinking about what she calls a near-death experience on August 24, the same day Debbie Stevens died when her car was swept away by flash floods while delivering newspapers.
The audio from Stevens’ call to 911 shocked the community. Former Fort Smith 911 dispatcher Donna Reneau has been criticized for her interactions with Stevens.
Because Smith was on the phone with dispatch that morning for 25 minutes, around the same time as Stevens, she says help never arrived.
“Help me!” Smith said to a Fort Smith dispatcher.
Smith’s drive home from work at 5 a.m. that morning ended much differently than expected. Flash floodwaters began to fill her truck on 5th St in Fort Smith.
- “How far away are they?” Smith said.
- “They are leaving the station right now ma’am,” an unidentified 911 dispatcher said.
From the start of the call, Smith believed first responders were just minutes away. Knowing she couldn’t swim, Smith just held on.
“I’m trying to hang on, but the whole cab of the truck is full of water…it’s all the way up over the steering wheel,” said Smith.
Smith says it’s a moment she will never forget.
“It’s going to be there. It’s going to be there for the rest of my life. But I was lucky enough to come out of it,” Smith told 5NEWS.
At one point during the 911 call, Smith says she can hear sirens in the distance, but the sound faded. The dispatcher promised help was on the way dozens of times.
- “How many times have you said that?” Smith said.
- “We are getting somebody to you, you need to quit being so pessimistic and be optimistic,” the dispatcher said.
As the minutes ticked by Smith says her time on the phone was wasted and she wished she had called her kids to say goodbye.
“It’s knowing that you are all alone and the only person you have to hold onto is offering to hang up on you,” Smith told 5NEWS.
- “Okay do you want me to just hang up the phone and just leave you there…or do you want me to stay on the phone and try to get somebody to you?” the dispatcher said.
- “I want you to talk me through this slow death that I am about to go through,” Smith said.
- “Ma’am everything is going to be okay,” the dispatcher said.
Ultimately, Smith made it home that morning, but she knows Debbie Stevens did not.
” I want to do this for her because I know how raw emotion is when you are in that situation,” Smith said to 5NEWS.
She believes she was misled by the dispatcher and given false hope.
“It seemed like no one was prepared, and I feel like you should always be prepared.”
Smith knows she never wants to be in a situation like this again, and says she’s lucky to be alive. “I was blessed with another opportunity and another lease on life, and I’m going to take it.”
Smith hung up on 911 after 25 minutes to scream for help from someone passing by. That man flagged down firefighters in the area to rescue her.
5NEWS reached out to the Fort Smith Police Department for comment on this story and to verify the name of the dispatcher who handled Smith’s call. They have not replied yet to confirm the identity of the dispatcher.
The dispatcher that handled Smith’s call was not Donna Renau, but Renau was responsible for training other dispatchers.