The final, desperate 911 call to a 47-year-old woman who delivered the Southwest Times Record at the front door came at 4:38 a.m. on Aug. 24. It was a panicked 22-minute request for help from the dispatcher, which the Fort Smith Police Department acknowledged sounded "at times and disagreed."
"I have an emergency – a serious emergency," Stevens says of the female dispatcher. "I can't go out and be scared to death, ma'am. Can you help me? "
Terrible Stevens told the dispatcher again and again that he was going to die in the rising water. She cried and asked repeatedly when help would arrive. She didn't know how to swim, she said. She was having trouble describing her location. She didn't want to die, she said.
"You will not die," said the audio dispatcher released by police this week. "I don't know why you're scared … You're scared of doing nothing but losing oxygen there. So calm down."
Stevens said water was pouring into her car. I'm about to ruin her new phone.
"Do you really care about your brand new phone?" the dispatcher asked. "That's where you cry for your life. Who cares about your phone."
Stevens said he did not see the water on the road. Suddenly she came out at him. She continued to apologize. The water was beginning to reach her breasts, she said. He could see people in the distance looking at her. They probably laugh, she said.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry," Stevens shouted.
Stevens at one point said he should vomit.
"Well, you're in the water, you can throw up," the dispatcher said. "It won't matter."
Crying uncontrollably, Stevens asked the dispatcher to pray with her.
"Keep going and starting the prayer," said the 91
"Please help me and get me out of this water, dear Dad," Stevens said.
Again she apologized for sounding rude. But he was afraid.
"This will teach you not to drive in the water next time," the dispatcher told her.
Stevens insisted that he did not see the flood. She worked on her paper for 21 years and has never experienced anything like it.
"I don't know how you didn't see it. You had to go right over it. The water just didn't appear."
About 15 minutes after the call, the dispatcher made other calls. Police said many people called early that morning.
Stevens is still crying. The dispatcher tried to describe the location of the stranded woman to the firefighters.
"I'm on the phone with her," she said. "She's scared."
About 18 minutes after the call, the dispatcher asked the fireman if he could see Steven's SUV. "Negative," he said. There was confusion about her location.
Stevens shouted uncontrollably.
"Miss Debbie, you'll have to shut up," said the dispatcher. "Can you bend your horn?"
"My horn is dead," Stevens said. "Everything is dead."
Water was rising above the door of her SUV, she said. "Oh, my lord, help me," she cried. The dispatcher said the rescuers were looking for her.
"Oh my gosh, my car is starting to move," Stevens shouted.
"Okay, listen to me, I know," said the dispatcher. "I'm trying to help you … I know you're scared. Just stick with me because I have to take other calls."
Stevens starts screaming. She said she couldn't breathe.
"I'm on the phone with her right now," said the lifeguard dispatcher. "She is legally scared."
"I'm going to die," Stevens said.
"Miss Debbie, you are breathing just fine because you are yelling at me. So calm down. I know you are afraid. Hold on to me."
Stevens is not heard again.
"Miss Debbie? Miss Debbie?" said the dispatcher. "Oh my God. Sounds like she's underwater now."
The call ended at 5:00 PM ET
The rescuers reached Stevens' SUV about 58 minutes later. They tried unsuccessfully to revive her.
Fort Smith police said in a statement that they were audiotaping the conversation "with great reluctance" after media requests.
"The recording contains audio of the last moments of the dying person as well as the interaction between her and the 911 operator," the statement said.
"And while the operator's response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds stunted. Sometimes efforts were made to find and rescue Mrs. Stevens."
Stevens's first call during an emergency was to her mother-in-law, police said. He then dialed 911 from his mobile phone.
Fort Smith Fire and Police Departments were flooded with 911 calls from people stranded in water, the release said. Stevens' difficulty in describing his location and the flood limited the ability of first responders to reach it, the statement said.
"I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra's family and friends," Police Chief Danny Baker said in a statement.
"All our first responders who tried to save Mrs. Stevens are distracted by the result. For each of us, saving lives is at the root of who we are and why we do what we do. When we fail, it hurts "
The Stevens family did not respond to multiple requests from CNN for comment.
Police spokesman Arik Mitchell said the 911 operator had sent a two-week notice on August 9, the tragedy.
" The security incident will cause us to look at policies in our existing from communications department, but we have not yet completed a review to make specific decisions, "Mitchell said.