FORT SMITH, Ark. – 911 calls received from a local woman who later drowned during flash flooding last weekend have been released by police.
The Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) says Debra Stevens, 47, had been delivering newspapers when swift waters swept away her SUV around 4:30 a.m. Saturday. The vehicle had settled in a small group of trees along Kinkead Avenue.
In a news release issued Thursday, the FSPD admits it was reluctant to release the audio files but did so in response to numerous requests from members of the media. Also released were officer body cam video and radio traffic.
“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,” said police in the news release.
Police say Stevens first called a family member for help but as flood waters continued to rise around her, she dialed 911 from her cell phone.
“The 911 operator who took the call dispatched Fort Smith Fire and Police units who were inundated with 911 calls from other citizens also stranded in flood waters. Also exacerbating response and rescue efforts were the facts that Mrs. Stevens was having trouble describing her exact location and flooding limited the ability of first responders to reach her. When first responders were finally able to pinpoint the location of Mrs. Stevens’ vehicle, the swift, rising water made immediate rescue impossible. An officer on scene removed his duty gear, donned a life vest, and was ready to enter the current tied to a rope but the speed and volume of water made this attempt futile. When first responders were finally able to reach Mrs. Stevens and extract her from the vehicle, she had tragically succumbed to drowning,” explained the news release.
“I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends. All of our first responders who attempted to save Mrs. 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. When we are unsuccessful, it hurts,” said Chief of Police Danny Baker about the incident.
A timeline of the events was also included with the news release and can be seen below: