How to balance helping someone in crisis with protecting yourself

Apr 19, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: Oct 17, 2023, 9:32 am

This undated photo provided by Ben Crump Law shows Ralph Yarl, the teenager shot by a homeowner in ...

This undated photo provided by Ben Crump Law shows Ralph Yarl, the teenager shot by a homeowner in Kansas City, Mo. (Ben Crump Law via AP)

(Ben Crump Law via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — What do we need to think about before helping someone in a crisis situation? What if 911 dispatch tells you, the caller, to stay inside even though someone outside needs help and fast? Protect yourself first because the professionals likely know better, advises a Utah sheriff’s sergeant. 

Three news stories are trending today (4/19/23) on MSNBC:

  1. Thinking it was their car, two high school cheerleaders in Texas were shot after mistakenly getting into the wrong car.
  2. Kaylin Gillis, 20, was shot and killed Saturday night in upstate New York when she accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway. The suspect is in custody and is charged with murder.
  3. A Kansas City man, Andrew Lester, 84, who stands accused of twice shooting a Black teen who mistakenly rang the doorbell at Lester’s home surrendered to police Tuesday but is now out on bail. 

Black teen who knocked on wrong door shot by homeowner. Legal expert discusses case.

It’s being reported that the Black teen, Ralph Yarl, 16, knocked on neighbors’ doors but couldn’t get help.

“Unfortunately, he had to run to three different homes before someone finally agreed to help him after he was told to lie on the ground with his hands up,” Ralph’s aunt Faith Spoonmore wrote in a GoFundMe post she set up for her nephew, as reported by People magazine.

That someone (who calls herself Jody) heard a loud banging at her door. But ignored the advice of a 911 operator that night to stay inside because of a possible active shooter nearby and chose to help Ralph who was bleeding out on the ground. Jody was assisted by another neighbor, mechanic James Lynch.

Are Americans too afraid to be helping in a crisis?

Are Americans too afraid to be good samaritans? Afraid of getting hurt or getting sued or both?

Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office joins Dave & Dujanovic to share his expertise.

Also, KSL legal analyst Greg Skordas explains Utah’s Good Samaritan law and how it applies and how it doesn’t.

“If 911 tells us to stay inside, but our instincts tell us we got to get out there and help, what do we?” Debbie asked.

“I have a really hard time telling somebody ‘Don’t go and help them’ because I understand why they want to. I like to think that I would do the same thing and go out and help that person.

“Paramedics and EMTs would be better trained to help that person medically,” Sgt. Cannon said. “Law enforcement would be better trained to confront the danger that is present — should there be an active shooter out there. But that’s hard to balance that when you see a person out there who clearly needs help.”

Cannon compared the Ralph Yarl predicament to being involved in a crash, pulling to the side of the road, calling 911 and the dispatcher telling you stay inside your car for your own safety.

“If I’m in my car, and we all know that cars at the side of the road have been hit, it happens all too often. If I get out of my car, am I safer outside of my car if I get hit? Or inside my car if I get hit? The answer is clearly you’re much safer in your car where you’re more protected,” Cannon said.

Good Samaritan law

A person who renders emergency care at or near the scene of, or during, an emergency, gratuitously and in good faith, is not liable for any civil damages or penalties as a result of any act or omission by the person rendering the emergency care, unless the person is grossly negligent or caused the emergency.”

“I understand the law can’t physically protect somebody like Dave if bullets are flying, certainly,” Debbie said, “but we have a Good Samaritan law here [in Utah]. So will it protect him if he jumped into action, and he did the wrong thing and he got sued?”

Skordas said the Good Samaritan law in Utah will protect anyone who chooses to help someone in crisis. However, no law requires someone to lend help to another.

“As citizens we don’t have a legal obligation to jump in when we see someone hurt,” he said. The Good Samaritan law is “designed to encourage people to jump in and help, knowing or at least believing, that they’re probably not going to be sued or get in trouble if they don’t do things exactly right.”


“They’re gone, and you knew,” phone call between Lori Vallow Daybell and son Colby Ryan


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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How to balance helping someone in crisis with protecting yourself