‘Don’t know why you’re freaking out’: Arkansas woman drowns on phone with 911

U.S. & World News

FT.SMITH, Ark. (CNN) — An Arkansas woman delivering newspapers died last Saturday when her car was swept away by floodwaters.

She spent the last moments of her life on the phone with a 911 operator begging for help.

But the dispatcher gave her mockery and contempt. The Fort Smith Police Department has released her 911 call.

Debbie Stevens begging for help and was on the phone with 911 for about 24 minutes. She tells the dispatcher water is filling up her car.

Stevens: “Please help me, I don’t wanna die.”

Dispatcher: “You’re not going to die, hold on for a minute.”

Stevens: “Well I need um, I’m scared, I’m sorry.”

Dispatcher: “I understand that you’re scared but there’s nothing I can do sitting in a chair so you’re going to have to hold on and I’m going to send you somebody OK?”

“You’re not going to die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out, it’s okay. I know the water level is high.”

Stevens: “I’m scared. I’m sorry.”

Dispatcher: “I understand that but you freaking out, doing nothing but losing your oxygen up in there so calm down.”

Stevens: “When are they going to be here?”

Dispatcher: “As soon as they get there.”

This police body camera video shows just how flooded the area was.

Stevens: “I’m scared I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before.”

Dispatcher: “This will teach you next time don’t drive in the water.”

Stevens: “Couldn’t see it ma’am. I’m sorry or I wouldn’t have.”

Dispatcher: “I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it, so.”

Police and firefighters arrived about 12 minutes after the initial call, but it took rescue crews more than an hour to reach Stevens.

Danny Baker, interim police chief explained, “I completely understand the disgust and the concern we all have. I understand that listening to a person going through the panic that Ms. Stephens was in those final moments of her life, we would all hope that we would get a little bit better response than perhaps she was given. I don’t want us interacting with anyone in that way, whether it’s a life and death situation or not.”

The interim police chief says that dispatcher turned in her two weeks notice, and this call came in on her last shift.

The interim chief says he doesn’t know why Stevens 911 call was not given top priority.

Baker said, “I don’t think the dispatcher realized or understood the severity of the situation.”

The interim chief says right now they’re investigating to see if police policies were followed and how they can be improved.

He says the dispatcher would not have been fired.

Baker said, “I can. Absolutely no criminal we looked at that and she did nothing criminally wrong, I’m not even going to go so far as saying she violated policy.”

Forty-seven-year-old Stevens was already dead when first responders were finally able to reach her vehicle.

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