A 911 dispatcher in Arkansas who berated a woman, as she drowned in August, was cleared of all wrongdoing in a recently-completed internal review.
The Fort Smith Police Department and Fire Department’s investigation likely means former Fort Smith dispatcher Donna Reneau will not face charges. Debbie Stevens, 47, who was trapped as floodwaters surrounded her SUV, called for help before her death, and Reneau was her dispatcher.
According to reports, Reneau gave her two weeks’ notice before her call with Stevens and it was reportedly her last day on the job.
Reneau can be heard telling Stevens to “shut up” and dismissing her fear that she was going to die. ABC News reported that Stevens drowned before first-responders could make it to her car.
“You’re not going to die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out,” Reneau said to Stevens during the emergency call.
KFSM reported that Reneau initially could not ascertain Stevens’ location but escalated her call. She also dispatched the fire department, categorizing the emergency as a water rescue call.
The dispatcher was also heard admonishing Stevens for driving in the flash flood, telling her, “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.”
Despite this, officials determined that Reneau’s behavior that day would not have resulted in her termination. Dean Pitts, Fort Smith police’s deputy director of administration, wrote in the report that it is necessary for dispatchers to be stern with callers who are hysterical, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The report stated that Reneau regretted some of the things she told Stevens before her drowning death.
“She regretted telling her she was not going to die most of all, but she also regretted not being more kind and understanding,” it read.
While Reneau was cleared of wrongdoing, the internal report called for an overhaul in 911 dispatcher training and hiring.
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[Featured image: Debra Stevens/Facebook; Donna Reneau/Fort Smith Police Department]