- More by Omar Bishara
Dying woman told “this will teach you” by emergency operator
An emergency operator told a dying woman “this will teach you” as she drowned to death.
Debra Stevens, 47, was delivering her local newspaper to front doors when her SUV was swept away by a flash flood.
Debra first called her mother-in-law who was also out delivering newspapers to warn her of the danger before calling the emergency authorities.
Her final moments were a 22-minute plea for help.
The emergency operator had earlier resigned and was working her final shift when she took Debra”s call on 24 August 2019.
It is not clear if that was the last one she took.
Police admitted the dispatcher sounded “calloused and uncaring at times”.
Debra told Emergency operator, Donna Reneau:
“I have an emergency — a severe emergency. I can’t get out and I’m scared to death, ma’am. Can you please help me?”
Debra repeatedly told the dispatcher she thought she was going to die, that she couldn’t swim and wept begging for help to arrive.
In the troubling audio recording released this week the dispatcher is heard saying:
“You’re not going to die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out. You freaking out is doing nothing but losing your oxygen in there. So calm down.”
At one point Debra explained that she needed to vomit and the dispatcher said: “Well, you’re in water, you can throw up. It’s not going to matter.”
The dispatcher also told her:
“This will teach you next time don’t drive in the water.”
Debra continued to cry uncontrollably as there was confusion about her location.
Reneau disturbingly said: “Miss Debbie you’re going to have to shut up. Can you honk your horn?”
The dispatcher told her: “OK, listen to me, I know. I’m trying to get you help. I know you’re scared. Just hold on for me because I’ve got to take other calls.”
She could be heard telling a rescuer: “I’m on the phone with her right now. She is legit freaking out.”
Debra said: “I’m going to die.”
The dispatcher replied:
“Miss Debbie, you’re breathing just fine because you are screaming at me. So calm down. I know you’re scared. Hold on for me.”
Debra stopped responding.
The dispatcher suddenly panics and says:
“Miss Debbie? Miss Debbie? Oh my God. She sounds like she’s under water now.”
Rescuers didn’t reach her SUV for another 58 minutes, Debra was dead by the time they arrived.
Fort Smith police said they released the audio recording of the call “with great reluctance”.
The statement said: “The recording contains the audio of a dying person’s last moments as well as the interaction between her and the 911 operator.
“And while the operator’s response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds calloused and uncaring at times, sincere efforts were being made to locate and save Mrs. Stevens.”
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