Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2005
Source: Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City, UT)
Copyright: 2005 Deseret News Publishing Corp.
Author: Pat Reavy


Friends Who Don't Report Victims Of Drugs May Face Penalties

A Salt Lake lawmaker, responding to a rash of drug overdose deaths 
this year where panicked friends didn't call 911 and watched the 
victims die, plans to introduce legislation that would make it a 
crime to not help someone they know is in trouble. Rep. Carol 
Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, will sponsor the bill that would 
make it a class B misdemeanor to not render aid.

"Law enforcement feels like their hands are just tied. Parents are 
like, 'Isn't there any consequence for these kids that abandon their 
friends?' " she said. "If you're going to do drugs with your friends, 
and somebody gets into a bad situation, you can't just abandon them 
or you're going to be liable."

Although he has not yet seen the bill, Mike Sorich, Amelia's father, 
said he supported anything that would prevent a situation like what 
happened to his daughter from happening to someone else. Amelia 
Sorich, 18, died in June after being injected twice with a 
"speedball," a mixture of cocaine and heroin, by her best friend 
during a party. But instead of calling 911 or a parent when they 
noticed Amelia was unconscious, they let her die, then dumped her 
body in the foothills above Bountiful.

The scenario was similar to that of 18-year-old Zachary Tyler 
Martinez, whose body was dumped at the Salt Lake County Hang-Gliding 
Park at the Point of the Mountain in March after he fatally overdosed.

"I think that there needs to be something done so that people just 
don't let people die. There has to be some consequence," Mike Sorich 
said. "If someone passes out and are on drugs, then there needs to be 
consequences (if no help is rendered). Currently the way the law sits 
now, there's nothing. I just think that's wrong."

Moss agreed to sponsor the bill after she was approached by Salt Lake 
County Sheriff's deputy Doug Lambert, a former member of the 
narcotics unit who specialized in juvenile drug use. The idea for the 
bill came when Lambert responded to an overdose on the county's east 
side last month.

Stephen James Sill, 27, died of a drug overdose in November. He was 
living with a friend and was supposed to be up early, but slept in 
his downstairs bed all day. His friends later told investigators that 
they could hear what they described as a "death snore" coming from 
Sill, or very heavy, labored breathing.

"I thought, 'Wouldn't you want to go check on him?' " Lambert said. 
It wasn't until later that afternoon that they tried to see if he was 
OK. "Instead of calling paramedics, (one of the friends) went to the 
freezer, got a bunch of ice cubes and put them on him to shock him 
(back to reality)," Lambert said. Several hours later they called 911.

After further investigating the case, Lambert wanted to file 
negligent homicide charges. That's when he found out he couldn't.

"Those kids can watch someone die right in front of them and nothing 
can be done about it," he said. "There's nothing we can do to those 
kids that left (their friend) . . . even though they knew that kid 
was in dire straits."

Sill's mother, Anne Sill Maxfield, said she believed her son's friend 
is already punishing himself over the death and she doesn't hold ill 
will toward him. However, she still would like to see the bill passed.

"I wish more than anything I could just help other kids," she said. 
"I think my son could be alive today if someone had known how to do 
CPR, if they had gone down to check on him. . . . Kids are so fearful 
they don't know what to do. They don't want to get into trouble 
either. I just think it's fear (that prevents them from calling 911), 
that the other kids or adults don't want to get into trouble."

Coincidentally, Sill was a former student of Spackman Moss. Now, she 
said she hopes to drum up support for her bill among all of the 
state's law enforcement agencies.

"It certainly will be one of the (bills) I'll put a lot of emphasis 
on." she said. "If it will save even one life it will be worth it."

The bill could be used in any scenario, not just drug overdoses, 
where a person should be rendering aid but does not. However, Lambert 
said it would not target innocent people. For example, he said if a 
parent had a son or daughter fatally overdose in their house but were 
unaware of it, they would not be liable. Furthermore, Lambert said 
the goal of the bill is not to punish those who abandon their 
friends, but to educate those people and catch their attention. Just 
because a person calls 911 doesn't necessarily mean they'll get in 
trouble themselves for being around someone who overdoses, Lambert 
said. But the consequences will be far worse if they choose to 
abandon that person instead, and that's the message the bill is 
trying to send, he said.
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