UPDATE: Arkansas dispatcher who scolded drowning victim tells interim police chief she liked to “help people in a time of an emergency”

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UPDATE: FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA) — (9/5/19) A dispatcher who has gone viral after telling a drowning victim to “shut up”, “this will teach you” and “I don’t know why you’re freaking out”, told Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker and Officer Julio Solis during an exit interview she thinks more needs to be done behind the scenes for dispatchers.

Donna Marie Reneau, who previously was ‘dispatcher of the year’ at the Fort Smith Police Department, resigned Aug. 23, the same day she scolded drowning victim Debra Stevens during a 22-minutes 9-1-1 call, which she was thankful that Baker “personally reached out to her to check on her after the traumatic incident”.

Bettering work conditions

When asked what would better work conditions at the police department Reneau said she wanted to answer with a quote. She said, “Mean what you say and do what you say you’re going to do.”

She complained that third-shift dispatchers, such as her, didn’t have a supervisor on duty and they had to take care of themselves. She said she didn’t technically have a supervisor for five years.

Third-shift supervisors do have a supervisor, but the supervisor works first-shift and Reneau said he was not available if dispatchers needed him.

Reneau also suggested dispatchers get a “distress break” after taking a high-stress call.

What’s next

She told Baker and Solis she was accepted into the cardiovascular Technology program at Arkansas Tech University.

She told Baker and Solis she would consider a part-time position with the department.

Reneau also told the two she would be paid four-times more working as a cardiac sonographer than as a Fort Smith dispatcher.

Even more, she told them she would consider working part-time at the department.

Arkansas governor addresses the matter

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he has listened to the 9-1-1 call.

“The call was unacceptable. Everybody who listens to that or reads the transcript of it recognizes they want to have someone on the 9-1-1 operator side who has compassion, who is clear-headed, and particularly under those dire circumstances… this is something she is going to have to live with,” Hutchinson said.

He said this emphasizes the need for more telecommunication training.

“We need to continue training or 9-1-1 responders, and it’s important to note that we have through our last legislative session, invested more in our 9-1-1 systems.”

Hutchinson said this will provide more efficiency.

“Hopefully through that, there will be enhanced training.”


FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA) – (9/3/19) A former Arkansas 911 dispatcher’s conduct is in question over her handling of a drowning woman’s plea for help.

Debra Stevens, 47, was delivering newspapers in Fort Smith when swift waters washed her car off the roadway and she was unable to get out of her car.

Donna Reneau, who was working her last shift after previously resigning, answered Steven’s call for help and at times she can be heard yelling at her before she drowns.

The 911 call was released documents her dying moments.

Reneau can be heard telling Stevens “Ms. Debbie you’re going to need to shut up. I need to you to listen to me” and “This will teach you next time don’t drive in the water…I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it.”

Water was rising up past Stevens’ chest and completely covered her SUV.

Reneau can also be heard telling Stevens, who was panicking, “you’re not going to die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out.”

When first responders were finally able to reach Stevens and remove her from her car, she had already drowned.

Read more here.

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