Debra Stevens was out delivering newspaper on her regular route in Fort Smith, Arkansas, when rising floodwaters in the riverfront town swept her SUV away.
A distraught Stevens called 911 for help at around 4:38 on the morning of August 24.
Instead of receiving help, the panicked 47-year-old was mocked by the 911 operator during her 22-minute plea for help.
“You’re not going to die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out,” the operator told Stevens as water slowly filled her car.
The Fort Smith Police Department, who released the disturbing audio on Friday, admitted the operator sounded “calloused and uncaring at times.”
Stevens can be heard pleading for help, repeatedly saying, “Please help me. I don’t wanna die.”
Dispatcher: “You’re not going to die. I don’t know why you’re freaking out. It’s OK. 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.”
At one point, the 911 operator can be heard berating Stevens for driving into the floodwaters in the first place.
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.”
You can view the full audio of the 911 call and police bodycam footage can be viewed in the video, below.
Although authorities responded to the scene 12 minutes after Stevens first called 911, it took more than an hour for rescuers to reach Stevens’ vehicle due to the floodwaters.
By the time police and firefighters were able to secure the SUV, Stevens had drowned.
Forth Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker said the 911 dispatcher had given their two weeks notice and that Stevens’ phone call for help came during the dispatcher’s last shift.
“I understand that listening to a person going through the panic that Ms. Stevens 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,” Baker told KHBS after the 911 call was released. “I don’t want us interacting with anyone in that way, whether it’s a life and death situation or not.”
Baker told KHBS that an investigation had been launched into the dispatcher’s behavior.
“She did nothing criminally wrong. I’m not even going to go so far as saying she violated policy,” Baker told KHBS.
“I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends,” Baker said in a statement released to the media. “All of our first responders who attempted to save Ms. Stevens are distraught over the outcome. For every one of us, saving lives is at the very core of who we are and why we do what we do.”