May 24, 2019

The Good Samaritan

On a Tuesday afternoon back in the summer of 2017, Scotty Hatton and Scottie Wightman both made a decision to help someone in need. They both paid a price for their actions that day, which have led to a legal, moral, and scientific puzzle about how we balance accountability and forgiveness. 

In this episode, we go to Bath County, Kentucky, where, as one health official put it, opioids have created “a hole the size of Kentucky.” We talk to the people on all sides of this story about stemming the tide of overdoses, we wrestle with the science of poison and fear, and we try to figure out when the drive to protect and help those around us should rise above the law.

This story was reported by Peter Andrey Smith with Matt Kielty, and produced by Matt Kielty.

Special thanks to Earl Willis, Bobby Ratliff, Ronnie Goldie, Megan Fisher, Alan Caudill, Nick Jones, Dan Wermerling, Terry Bunn, Robin Thompson and the staff at KIPRC, Charles Landon, Charles P Gore, Jim McCarthy, Ann Marie Farina, Dr. Jeremy Faust and Dr. Ed Boyer, Justin Brower, Kathy Robinson, Zoe Renfro, John Bucknell, Chris Moraff, Jeremiah Laster, Tommy Kane, Jim McCarthy, Sarah Wakeman, and Al Tompkins. 

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JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, so Peter.




JAD: Matt.




JAD: Where do you want to launch into this?


MATT: Yeah. We're gonna start with this call.


AUTOMATED DISPATCH: Tuesday August 8th, 2017.


PETER: This is a call from Bath County, Eastern Kentucky.


AUTOMATED DISPATCH: 13:51 and 26 seconds. [computer sounds]


MATT: It's a call from dispatch to ...


DISPATCH: County four units, four units to respond.


MATT: The Bath County EMS station.


PETER: These are the people that are dispatched to medical emergencies.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: When I started, I remember it was like one or two o'clock in the afternoon, something like that.


JAY FO: Tones went off for a unresponsive male.


MATT: So that’s Scotty Whiteman.




PETER: The other voice is Jay Fo.


JAY FO: We're partners in the EMS service in Bath County, Kentucky.


MATT: Anyways, call comes in.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: First one of the day.


PETER: Scotty and Jay hop in their ambulance, and they rush over to this apartment complex. They’d been there before. It’s this kind of squat two-story building.


JAY FO: Like a strip mall, almost.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: When we get there ...


PETER: Jump out, put the gloves on, enter this small apartment.


MATT: And immediately when they come in, off to the left is the living room.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Law enforcement's there.


JAY FO: The chief of police was there, talking to the two people that were alert in the house, a woman and a guy.


MATT: Who are sitting on a couch.


PETER: And then if you look immediately to the right, it's just, like, the kitchen is there.


MATT: And that's where Scotty and Jay see ...


\SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Lying on his back with his arms to his side.


PETER: A guy in his mid-50s.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Completely unresponsive.


JAY FO: He was laying in water about three inches deep, where I guess somebody in the house ...


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Had taken the sprayer from the kitchen sink and had sprayed him down.


MATT: Trying to revive the guy.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Bring him back to life. And it doesn't happen that way.


MATT: So Jay and Scotty enter the kitchen, stand over this guy.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: He hadn't started turning blue yet.


JAY FO: And so I checked and make sure he was breathing. And he was.




PETER: He’s taking these really low, shallow breaths.


JAY FO: And then I pulled his eyelids back and checked his pupils.


PETER: They’re tiny pinpoints.


JAY FO: He was overdosed. Pretty indicative of opiates.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: So I says, "Okay, so we ..."


PETER: So Jay grabs his medic kit. He goes into his bag and he pulls out this nasal spray. It's a drug called Naloxone.


MATT: It's also commonly referred to as Narcan. And it's a drug that's known as being this Lazarus drug.


PETER: Yeah, because it immediately throws an opiate overdose into reverse. And, like, brings people back from the brink of death.


MATT: So Jay crouches over this guy, and he takes this nasal spray, sticks it up one of the guy's nostrils, sprays it. Takes it out.


PETER: Waits a beat. Does the same thing to the other nostril.


JAY FO: [snaps fingers] Back awake within seconds.


MATT: The guy opened his eyes.


JAY FO: Thought what's going on?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I grabbed a towel and started drying him off.


JAY FO: And then I pushed him up so I could sit him up.


PETER: Got him up.


JAY FO: Got him onto the stretcher.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Loaded in the truck, and we take off to St. Claire hospital.


PETER: Scotty’s up front. He’s driving the ambulance.


MATT: Jay's in the back with the patient.


JAY FO: Everything was good with him.


MATT: Everything was routine.


PETER: When all of a sudden ...


JAY FO: Scotty hollered through the window. He yelled at me, "I don't feel right."


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I can remember a weird taste coming into my mouth, and a real odd smell hitting my nose.


MATT: What are you tasting?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I can't describe it. It was just -- it was like chewing on steel.


[EMS DISPATCH: Go ahead.]


MATT: Scotty, while he’s driving he gets on the radio.


[SCOTTY ON RADIO: I need a unit to …]


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Hollering at the next county over saying, “Hey, I need help.”


[SCOTTY ON RADIO: I’ve got a light feeling of increased temperature.]


MATT: I need you to send me an ambulance.


[SCOTTY ON RADIO: On the eastbound exit ramp of the 137. Just have them meet us there, please.]




SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Made it to the bottom of the ramp. Put the truck in park.


PETER: Jay jumped out of the back and ran up to the front.


JAY FO: Went through the passenger side.


MATT: Got to Scotty.


JAY FO: He was already slumped over.


PETER: Unresponsive.


JAY FO: It was that quick.


MATT: Like, he was out cold.


JAD: Huh. Not waking up, anything?


MATT: No, no. He's not responding at all.


JAD: So what’s -- what's happening?


MATT: Well, this is -- like, this is the thing that, I don't know, was so shocking to me, is that when Jay then checked out Scotty ...


JAY FO: He had pinpoint pupils, snoring respirations.


MATT: He seemed to have the exact same symptoms as the patient in the back of the ambulance who had overdosed.


JAD: Wait, what? The exact same symptoms?


MATT: Yeah. That’s what it looked like to Jay.


JAD: Well how can -- how does that even happen?


MATT: Well, so -- so Jay explained it to us like they -- he says if you wind back, they had gone into this apartment to treat this guy who was on the kitchen floor.


JAY FO: The guy was wet.


MATT: And he says he believes that, when they were helping him up ...


JAY FO: Scotty had rubbed against his skin to skin contact with his forearm.


MATT: And Jay says he believes that what likely happened in that moment, is that whatever drug this guy had taken had now gotten onto Scotty's arm, absorbed through his skin into his system, and then, like, 15 minutes later had caused Scotty to pass out.


JAD: Wow. That’s -- that’s really strange.


PETER: Yeah, it seems like a really unusual thing to happen. But the thing is, like, I guess what's even weirder is that, like, this wasn't the first time I had heard this story.


MATT: Right. Like, Peter's been following this for awhile.


PETER: So yeah, I've been keeping a list of these types of incidents, and what I found is this wasn't an isolated incident. These types of things are happening a lot.


[NEWS CLIP: And now at 6, EMTs in danger.]


PETER: There have been cases reported in North Carolina, Florida ...


[NEWS CLIP: Where a police officer nearly died ...]


PETER: Rural Ohio. Rural Pennsylvania.


NEWS CLIP: From an accidental drug overdose.]


PETER: West Virginia.


[NEWS CLIP: Three police officers in southeast Wisconsin ...]


PETER: Texas, California.


[NEWS CLIP: Rushed to the hospital ...]


[NEWS CLIP: Two EMTs ...]


PETER: Massachusetts.


[NEWS CLIP: Taken to the hospital ...]


[NEWS CLIP: All right. Breaking news in Providence now ...]


PETER: Vermont. New Hampshire.


[NEWS CLIP: Two police officers are hospitalized ...]


PETER: Nebraska.


[NEWS CLIP: Three EMTs and an officer went to the hospital ...]


[NEWS CLIP: A deputy went to the hospital overnight.]


[NEWS CLIP: The officer was responding to an overdose.]


PETER: There's been over 100 reported incidents all over the country. So I mean, I've been reporting on opioids for -- for a number of years. And I guess as I was watching these -- these kinds of incidents occur, it kind of felt like I was watching a -- a contagion, like, unfold in real time.


JAD: Hmm.


PETER: I mean, I guess when I was reading all these stories, I was just thinking like, "What is going on here? Like, what's happening?"


JAD: I'm Jad Abumrad.


ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.


JAD: This is Radiolab. And today we have a story about what happened that day in that apartment, in that ambulance in Kentucky. Definitely kind of a mystery story.


ROBERT: But at its core, it's really a story about -- about wanting to do good, choosing to do good, and then having to suddenly bear the cost of doing good.


PETER: Okay.


JAD: Story comes to us from Peter Smith, freelance journalist. And it was also co-reported by ...


MATT: Peter!


ROBERT: Our producer Matt Kielty.


MATT: Hey everybody.


MATT: Okay, so Kentucky.


JAD: Kentucky.




MATT: So we wanted to talk to Scotty and his partner Jay about what happened that day.


PETER: And about what's been happening.


MATT: So we flew into Lexington. We drove about an hour east?


PETER: Yeah, there was some nice, rolling bluegrass hills.


MATT: Yeah, a lot of green. And we drove to this tiny little city called Owingsville.


MATT: And we're at the Bath County emergency medical services.


PETER: Where the Bath County EMS is.


MATT: White building, linoleum siding, big garage doors like you'd see at like an auto shop. A couple big white Bath County EMS ambulances. It’s funny, there's a washer/dryer, an ashtray on top of it.


MATT: And attached to the garage is a one-story house, basically.


PETER: So we essentially just showed up at this place to introduce ourselves and say, "Hey."


MAN: Yeah, go ahead and sit down.


WOMAN: I'm leaving.


MATT: There were a few people inside.


PETER: Gary, the director of the station was there.


GARY: Yeah.


MATT: And you're serving the whole county?


GARY: Yeah, I think it's 284 square miles, I think is how big our county is.


PETER: You know about how many people that is?


GARY: A little over 12,000 now, I believe. And we're covering that all from one station.


MATT: Feels like -- there's beds in back?


GARY: Yeah, beds in the back. Yeah.


PETER: Y'all end up just kind of like living here?


GARY: Yeah, it's basically like an apartment.


MATT: There's a kitchen. We were in the living room with Gary sitting on a couch. There's these big la-Z-Boys, a ginormous TV. Billy Bob Thornton was on!


GARY: He’s a mean dude.


MATT: In the show?


GARY: No, he's just a mean dude in real life. Remember that? We went to a Willie Nelson concert and his band opened for Willie Nelson. And somebody in the audience heckled him, and he just about came off the stage after him, and he called him everything but a sewing machine and a milk cow. I mean I've -- he made up cuss words. Yeah, he's a wiry little feller.


MATT: So we were kind of just hanging around with Gary.


PETER: It was probably, like, 15 minutes. And then ...


GARY: There's Scotty!


PETER: Scotty walked in.


GARY: That's Peter Smith.


PETER: Nice to meet you.


MATT: Matt Kielty.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: How are you guys doing?


JAD: This is the EMT who overdosed?


PETER: Yeah, Scotty's the guy that supposedly overdosed.


MATT: He's in his 50s, white hair, tall.


PETER: He’s got bright blue eyes.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I have a question.


PETER: Mm-hmm?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: How did you even find out about all this?


PETER: I read it in the New York Times. There was one line in a story about three EMS personnel. I don't know if that’s the true story ...


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Yeah. Pretty much, yeah. They picked up on the story.


PETER: Yeah, and so then I -- I thought there was something unusual about that, and I was curious to hear the real story.




SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Yeah, give me just a few minutes and ...


MATT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No rush. There's no rush.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: We'll sit down and then discuss things.


PETER: All right.


MATT: So eventually it was just the three of us in this living room.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Do you want to sit at the table, or ...


PETER: Uh, I was thinking ...


PETER: I mean, maybe I should preface this by saying that you can't really understand this story unless you understand a little bit about what EMS personnel do. I talked to some other EMTs that told me that everybody has their "Why." Everybody has this thing they say. And it's like, "This is the reason I got into this line of business." I would say, like, a very small percentage, like, don't have second or third jobs. Like, they don't make a lot of money. So everybody has this "Why."


PETER: Yeah, so maybe you can just, like, tell ...


PETER: And so I asked Scotty what his "why" was, and he told me this story. And I think it's a really incredible story that not only explains why he does what he does, but it also explained, like, why he holds onto certain things.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: So in September of 1999, I was involved in an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.


MATT: So it was early in the morning. It was raining.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Yeah, it was during Hurricane Floyd.


MATT: He was out there for work.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Cross-country truckin’.


MATT: What kind of a rig were you driving?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: It was a Freightliner. And I was pulling a flatbed trailer with a load of pipe on it.


MATT: So he's barreling down the turnpike with this heavy load of steel on the back. And with the weather, like, visibility starts to get bad.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Slowed my speed way down, probably running approximately 50-55 mile an hour.


PETER: And he comes through this construction site.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: And something happened in the front end of the truck.


MATT: He heard a pop.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: A front tire had blown out, and I basically became a passenger at that point. There was no controlling it.


PETER: His 18-wheeler was, like, careening out of control down the turnpike, and it -- it was, like, skidding across the wet pavement.


MATT: And the truck lunged to the right.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: There was a concrete wall there that had guardrail attached to it. It nosed into the guardrail.


MATT: Came flying back across both lanes.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Back toward the center divider and the truck hit it.


PETER: Plowed through the center divider.


MATT: And began to, like, roll over.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: And came down and struck a vehicle that was traveling the other direction.


MATT: Scotty says he doesn't remember much of what happened next, other than his truck finally coming to a stop.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: After that, the next thing I remember was standing on the frame of the truck watching diesel fuel run underneath of me, and I could hear the truck burning.


PETER: Somehow he -- he managed to get out of the cab, and he's standing on this tail of the -- the cab. And the truck is on fire. And, like, while he's standing there, like, other people who were driving down the highway have stopped and they've started to, like, yell at him.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Screaming at me to get away from the truck. I got off the truck and I looked up the road and I saw the other vehicle and I knew then that it wasn't good. It…


MATT: What did it look like?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: It was -- it was a very destroyed vehicle.


MATT: So what happens next?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: There was a lady had a minivan. I have no idea where she came from. She opened the side door on her minivan and had me sit in the floorboard until the ambulance got there. I remember looking down at my left hand, and the back of my left hand all the skin was probably hanging down 8 to 10, 12 inches where it had melted the skin, and …


MATT: Like, your skin's just dangling off your body?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Yeah. I can remember when the ambulance getting there, and there was a female paramedic. And when she walked up and looked at me I remember her going, "Oh my God!" And I'm like, "This ain't good is it?" And she said, "No." She didn't lie to me. She said, "No, it's not good."


MATT: He got rushed to a hospital. He had five broken ribs, massive skin burns.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I do remember them telling me, "You're going to lose your left hand," and I told them, I said, "That's not an option, I'm left-handed."


MATT: Surgeons immediately started doing skin grafts.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Took skin off my legs and put it on my arms and my back. As you can see I've still got my left hand.


MATT: Still left-handed?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I'm still left-handed.


MATT: And when -- you said it was a couple days after the accident when they told you about the other car?




MATT: How did that conversation unfold?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: It was an attorney, that was for the -- representing the trucking company that I was driving for, was the one that actually told me about the fatalities that had been involved with the accident. So that was how I found out.


PETER: Do you remember what exactly happened?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I just remember him walking into the hospital room and he was like, "Hi, my name is..."


MATT: Like, suit and tie sort of thing?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Yeah. And my name's so and so, and I'm with the -- I'm an attorney with -- representing the company that you drive for. And we don't know if you've been informed of this or not, but there was three fatalities involved. And no, I hadn't been informed, but I guess I have been now.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: When we started into court proceedings, that was when I found out names, and -- and where they were from.

MATT: Where were they from?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: They were from Connecticut. They had been on vacation in North Carolina. The hurricane coming in, they were evacuated out of North Carolina. So they had decided that they were gonna travel up into Pennsylvania and try to find a place to finish their vacation in Pennsylvania. And that's what put them there. If I had have traveled two miles an hour faster or two miles an hour slower, we wouldn't have been at the same place at the same time.


MATT: Scotty eventually went back to long-haul trucking, but he says that he kept thinking about that day, about that accident, the people who were killed.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I never forgot. I still haven't forgotten.


MATT: But the other thing that really struck him about that day, was that everybody who showed up to that scene, the fire department, the EMS ...


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Everybody there was a volunteer.


MATT: And that's something he couldn't really shake.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: That people volunteered to come to me and they didn't know who I was. They didn't care who I was. They -- they didn't pass judgment on me that yeah, I was in a horrific accident, and I may have been the cause of that accident. They didn't care. They viewed me as someone that needed help. And that was all they viewed me as.


MATT: And Scotty says the more he thought about it, the more he felt like he had this -- this sort of debt to pay back for the lives that were lost that day.


PETER: For the ones that he -- that he extinguished. And the way that he’s gonna do that is become a volunteer. He’s gonna become one of these people.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Who helps those in need.


PETER: That comes to your aid, no matter what.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: And as they say, you know, the rest is history. Here I am, I'm an EMT.




MATT: So we spent a few days with Scotty, following him around on some of his runs. And as an EMT, his main responsibility is to drive the ambulance but also ...




MATT: To assist his partner.


JAY FO: Hello!


PETER: Who's often Jay.


JAY FO: What's going on?


MATT: And out in rural Kentucky, they get all sorts of calls.




WOMAN: Come here, honey. They just want to look at you. It's okay, you're okay.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: How long has he been acting like that, honey?


WOMAN: Since last night.




MATT: Like a three year old who was having trouble breathing.


WOMAN: Just breathe! Look, look at me, it's okay.


PETER: A lot of calls from nursing homes.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Deep breath, does that hurt? Got him on 6 on Main.


MATT: Where a call can be about something that feels, like, so small like a cough or low blood sugar.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Ready to go! Portable over to Main.


MATT: One night, 10:20 at night, got a call. Older woman fell off a porch, they help pick up an elderly woman.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Oh good God. Good God.


PETER: Sometimes they get called to just give people their meds.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: You’re gonna feel a big poke okay? Count of three, here we go. 1-2-3. Big poke.


MATT: These are kind of like the everyday innocuous calls. And then of course, like, there are overdoses.


MATT: By the way, I'm -- I'm Matt.


EARL: I'm Earl. Nice to meet you.


PETER: Peter.


EARL: I'm Earl.


MATT: Because we were like these out of town reporters, everybody kept saying that we should go down to the old jail.


PETER: So you're the jailer?


EARL: Yeah, yeah.


MATT: Which is where we met the county jailer, Earl.


MATT: How’s it going, sir?


EARL: How you doing there, bud?


MATT: I’m Matt.


MATT: And his friend Mitchell.

MATT: Nice to meet you.


MITCHELL: Alrighty.


MATT: And so ...




MATT: So Earl let us into the jail. It’s abandoned now.


PETER: Paint peeling off the walls.


MATT: He walked us into this front room.


EARL: Let's see where they've got 'em.


MATT: It’s full of like weed-whackers, lawn mowers.


PETER: Earl oversees the work-release program, so the people that are in jail are sort of on this temporary work-release program where they, like, do lawn maintenance along the highway.


EARL: Where they got them at, Mitch? Oh, it's over there, I see it.




MATT: And then Earl -- Earl grabbed this red bucket, which he set down. It’s like a knee-high bucket.


EARL: This is gonna be pretty nasty.


MATT: Oh, my God!


EARL: That's from this year. Which you can see, that's just this year.


MATT: That's so many syringes! How many you think you got in there?


EARL: I'd say they's a thousand, wouldn't you, Mitch?


MITCHELL: Close, anyway.


EARL: Yeah, close to it. That was, like, all last year. All last year.


MATT: People on work release have been picking these up for, like, the past year.


JAD: This is just, like, litter on the highway?


MATT: Yeah.


EARL: You two -- it's been awful. They used to have the kids, you know, would clean up, like, Boy Scouts and stuff clean up along the roads. But it just got too -- too bad with the needles now. You just can't do it anymore with the way the needles and stuff are. Mm-mm.


MITCHELL: Yeah, It's all kinds of [inaudible]. Probably another bottle full.


EARL: There's probably 20-30 in there. Here's another one. We got a problem here, there's no doubt about that. There's definitely a problem with -- with heroin use.


MITCHELL: Some of them got it in -- still got the stuff in there.


MATT: Oh, still got the drugs in there?


MITCHELL: Blood, too.


MATT: Huh.


EARL: That first year, we -- we really found them, didn't we?


MITCHELL: And threw a bunch of them away too, before we started saving them.


EARL: Yeah, yeah.


PETER: Did it -- did it surprise you to find this many?


MITCHELL: Really, yeah.


EARL: Well, it just all at once -- the heroin problem just started just like overnight here. I mean, it was pills forever, and then -- and then just all at once. I mean, nobody even ever seen a needle, did you Mitch?




EARL: And then just all at once they were everywhere.


PETER: When -- when did you start seeing them?


EARL: About ...


MITCHELL: About a year ago, wasn't it?


EARL: Uh, it's been longer than that. It's been about two -- two-and-a-half years ago. And it just -- and once it started, you started finding -- they were everywhere.


PETER: So what do you think when you see -- see all these needles?


EARL: I just think it's -- it's a bad thing. It's -- it's destroying families, and we have somebody dying here just all the time. I mean, it's -- it's really bad. Sad. I've had a -- I had a very good friend that I lost, what was it Mitchell, back last August?


MITCHELL: Yeah, somewhere along there.


EARL: I had took him to rehab and he was in there for a couple months, and he got out and done good, and then -- and then that happened to him.


MATT: And that was sort of the incredible thing.


WOMAN: There's something for everyone here, so have your pick.


MATT: All right, well I'll take a look around.


WOMAN: Okay.


MATT: Was that, like, everybody knew somebody who had been caught up in using opioids.


WOMAN: I mean, nice families. Somebody in their family end up going bad.


MATT: Like, I went to a yard sale because I love yard sales, and ...


WOMAN: Every family's affected some way.


MATT: When I told the women who were sitting there on the driveway what we were reporting on, they -- they said they had lost neighbors, friends.


DRIVER: Well, let's put it like this. In 2000 ...


PETER: You know, one day when we were down there we had to take a Lyft.


DRIVER: No, in 1990 I had a motorcycle accident, which destroyed my left femur. I've got a 12-inch plate, 10 screws and two pins that hold my left femur together.


PETER: And the driver told us about how he’d started using pills.


DRIVER: And really came by it quite -- quite innocently.


PETER: I talked to a woman who worked at a thrift store who told me she lost a cousin to an overdose. Actually, Jay told us about a friend of his.


JAY FO: He actually relapsed. He was in -- he was in therapy. His sponsor in Narcotics Anonymous overdosed, and he had nobody to go to. So he relapsed and was found two days later in his car. So it was pretty bad.


JAD: And I -- I would assume that the EMS, Scotty and Jay, would have seen this -- this shift happen?


PETER: Yeah, Scotty told us, around 2017, overdose calls ...


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Went from one or two a week to ...


PETER: Five, six. One day ...


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: There was 11. And that was just unheard of in this county. It just -- to have many overdoses.


MATT: They told us they would treat the same person, like, five times over a few months. Like, this is just their job.


PETER: Right. They’re there to save people’s lives.


MATT: But this overdose problem, and the sort of like moral calculus that any EMS person makes when they show up to help a person who -- who has ODed, it started to shift when reports started emerging about this new drug. This drug that made it so simply coming into contact with a person like, just simply touching them, could put an EMS worker in danger.


JASON YORK: Wasn't a lot known about it.


MATT: We talked to this guy Jason York about it.


PETER: He's the Emergency Management Director for the county.


JASON YORK: When it first came out, the reports that we were getting was it was literally airborne.

PETER: Have you ever seen it?




PETER: What do you think, like, just hearing about it? I mean what's going through your mind when you hear about it?


JASON YORK: World War Z. Walking Dead.


PETER: The drug is called fentanyl.


JAD: What is fentanyl? Like I know that it's an opioid but is it like ...


PETER: So fentanyl ...


MATT: Didn't you talk to a guy about this awhile back?


PETER: I did. I talked to this guy John Cole.




PETER: Can you tell me again, like, who you are?


JOHN COLE: Yeah. I'm an emergency physician here at Hennepin County Medical Center, which is a level one trauma center in Minneapolis.


PETER: He's also the director of the Minnesota Poison Control.


JOHN COLE: So fentanyl -- so fEntangle has been around for decades, and we use it almost every day in my hospital in some capacity.


PETER: So fentanyl is an opioid, it’s fully synthetic. It’s manufactured in a laboratory. And it often comes in powder form, but drug companies reformulated it into all sorts of things like fentanyl lollipops. And these lollipops are given to soldiers on the battlefield. There’s also fentanyl patches.


JOHN COLE: That people wear to get fentanyl into their body through their skin.


JAD: Oh, so you can -- you can do fentanyl through the skin.


PETER: Yeah.


JOHN COLE: It's an easy way to put something on for people with really bad, chronic pain, people with cancer for instance use them.


PETER: It's just this really, really effective painkiller.


JOHN COLE: Because fentanyl is really, really potent.


PETER: I mean, a lot of people refer to fentanyl as sort of the third wave of the opioid crisis.


JAD: Just for context. I mean, what are the first two waves?


PETER: Yeah.


JAD: If you don’t mind?


PETER: Well, so if you go back to the beginning of the crisis, the first wave was pills.


JAD: Right.


PETER: When in the early 2000s, drug manufacturers began flooding communities with pharmaceutical-grade opioids.


JAD: Okay.


PETER: And the second wave was around 2011 when there was a crackdown on pills. And so a lot of people that were using pharmaceuticals began to migrate to heroin. And the Mexican cartels got very good at delivering that heroin. And then around 2013 ...


[NEWS CLIP: Opioid crisis.]


PETER: A third wave hits.


[NEWS CLIP: America's worst drug crisis ever.]


PETER: Drug dealers, people that were selling heroin, start looking to fentanyl.


JOHN COLE: Because fentanyl is so much cheaper to either make or obtain than normal heroin.


PETER: And most importantly, fentanyl is way more potent. And so basically to -- to maximize their profit, drug dealers start cutting fentanyl into heroin. The problem is that the people who are using, they really have no idea what they're getting. They think they're just getting heroin.


JOHN COLE: And certainly by 2014, we started to see patients in our emergency department who were overdosed with what they thought was heroin that probably turned out to be fentanyl.


PETER: And as more and more people were overdosing ...


[NEWS CLIP: Fentanyl.]


PETER: Dying ...


[NEWS CLIP: A powerful synthetic opioid.]


PETER: There were all these news stories about ...


[NEWS CLIP: A powerful opioid.]


PETER: This ...


[NEWS CLIP: Fentanyl.]


PETER: Powerful, ultra-potent, synthetic opioid.


[NEWS CLIP: 30 to 50 times as powerful as heroin itself.]


JOHN COLE: And there are versions of it where, you know, the molecule's changed a little bit, and it makes it more potent.


PETER: And by 2016 ...


[NEWS CLIP: An even more dangerous drug is now hitting the streets.]


[NEWS CLIP: It's called carfentanil.]


[NEWS CLIP: It's a new synthetic opioid usually used to tranquilize elephants.]


[NEWS CLIP: This deadly drug is popping up in our backyards.]


JOHN COLE: And carfentanil is extremely potent.


[NEWS CLIP: The same size as just seven grains of salt could kill you.]


PETER: John says it was right around this time, 2016 ...


JOHN COLE: There started to be reports of ...


[CLIP: I fall backwards.]


JOHN COLE: Law enforcement ...


[CLIP: And I'm trying to hold onto anything I can grasp.]


JOHN COLE: Emergency medical services ...


[CLIP: My face started burning.]


JOHN COLE: And even nurses in hospitals ...


[CLIP: I broke out in a sweat.]


JOHN COLE: Describing getting ill when they were exposed to powder that turned out later to be fentanyl or some other type of fentanyl.


MATT: How did you first hear about it?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: How did I hear about it? You guys. The media.


MATT: Oh! I forget I'm a representative of the media.




MATT: Scotty said he actually first heard about carfentanil on Good Morning America.

SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Started reading articles on it.


MATT: Jay saw other people in EMS tweeting about it.


JAY FO: You know, what is this drug? What is going on?

SCOTTY WHITEMAN: But that's in the big city, it's not gonna happen here.


JAY FO: And then one of our local law enforcement officers, Bud Lyons ...


MATT: Oh, so you'd read about fentanyl?


BUD LYONS: I mean, I’ve read about it, but I didn't think it would come to a small city like this.


PETER: So that’s Bud Lyons.


JAY FO: He's a police officer. He's a K9 officer here.


MATT: So what happened?


BUD LYONS: Basically, I was dispatched to the funeral home.


MATT: So it was the summer of 2017, Bud got called out to the parking lot of the funeral home.


BUD LYONS: A female had passed out.


MATT: In her car.


BUD LYONS: When I got on scene, woke her up, got her out of the vehicle, I noticed that she had some brown stuff on her face, like a powder substance around her nostrils.


MATT: He searched the car, and took into evidence a thousand dollars in cash.


BUD LYONS: And several little baggies of brown powder substance that turned out to be heroin.


PETER: And that same night as he was, like, back in the evidence room going through the money.


BUD LYONS: I didn't have no gloves on when I was counting the money.


MATT: Started feeling funny.


BUD LYONS: Started feeling real dizzy, couldn't think straight.


MATT: Dropped the money.


JAY FO: And drove his cruiser up here into the parking lot.


PETER: Of the EMS station.


JAY FO: And when he pulled in, he went down.


PETER: A couple of EMS were there. Gave him this -- this Lazarus drug, Narcan.


BUD LYONS: Rushed me to the hospital.


PETER: Had that ever happened to you before?


BUD LYONS: No. It's the first time it's ever happened. And, you know, just that little touch basically almost killed me.


JAD: Just a grain of fentanyl got on his skin, and he's saying that's all it took?


MATT: Yeah. Like, that was -- that was the story that was starting to like emerge, really across the country. That, like, a tiny grain -- if you came into contact with a tiny grain of this drug, it could take you down.


JAY FO: So as soon as that happened, me and Scotty, we made it a pact between us to carry extra Narcan in the truck for us in case we ever got exposed. Because I knew it was here in the county and in the city. And then about a month after that, sure enough.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Chewing on steel. Put the truck in park.


JAY FO: My partner got exposed.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I can remember coming to and being in another ambulance.


MATT: Jay had given Scotty their Narcan they had stashed away.


JAY FO: His dose of Narcan and mine, because he wouldn't wake up after the first dose.


MATT: They got him to the hospital.


PETER: Scotty was kept under evaluation for about four hours.


MATT: And then eventually discharged.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: The next day it was like, that was when it hit on the fact of, you know what? I almost died doing my job.


MATT: And that's essentially when, what began as a call for help became a crime scene.


JAD: What do -- what do you mean?


MATT: I will tell you in a minute after the break.


[HEIDI: Hi. This is Heidi calling from Nashville, Tennessee. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at]




JAD: Jad.


ROBERT: Robert.


JAD: Radiolab.


ROBERT: Back to Peter and Matt.


JAD: In Kentucky.


PETER: Something that I kept thinking about when we were down there in Kentucky driving around, was that there is, like, no duty to render aid. Even though there are some exceptions and statutes in some states, like for the most part, there's just no obligation. We live in a society where you, like, do not -- you can sort of watch a person drown and you won’t be held liable. You can do that. And that’s legal. I just kept thinking about that.


EARL: Where are y’all going to? I mean just all of Eastern Kentucky?


PETER: We’ve mostly just been here.


EARL: Oh, is that right?


MATT: So, when we were down there with Earl the jailer.


PETER: Yeah, in the jail, the old Bath County jail.


MATT: We'd just seen the needles and we were coming out to the parking lot. And we had spent probably, like, two or three days trying to find the people who were actually in the apartment. Like, the person who overdosed and the other two people who we learned lived in that apartment.


PETER: I had a phone number, but nobody was picking up. But we're with Earl, and we just asked him if knew this guy, Scotty Hatton.


EARL: Scotty White?


PETER: Hatton.


JAD: This is a different Scotty.


PETER: This is a different Scotty.


MATT: Right. Because Scotty Whiteman's the EMT who responded to the call, had this seemingly, like, overdose exposure. Scotty Hatton lived in the apartment.


PETER: Yeah, he was there the day that Scotty and Jay showed up.


EARL: Yeah, I know him. What are y’all wanting to talk to him, or ...


PETER: Yeah. We just -- I mean, we got the Scotty Whiteman side of the story, and we’re just curious if ...


EARL: What are you wanting to talk to him about? What went on that night, or ...


PETER: Just get his side of the story. I know ...


EARL: I don’t think he could right now, because his case ain’t final.


MATT: Sure.


EARL: I just about guarantee he won’t.


MATT: But then he was like, "I can tell you where he is, though," because it turns out that Scotty Hatton had on ankle monitor, and Earl, you know, he's the jailer, so he just, like, pulls up his phone and looks up Scotty's GPS location.


PETER: Yeah, and so the -- the little -- the little dot for the GPS showed exactly where he was. At this old cemetery.


EARL: That graveyard's what, Mitchell?


MATT: And Earl said, like, we could go down there and, like, maybe he would talk to us.


MATT: So we get there. Pretty big and sprawling cemetery that was, like, 25 minutes out of town? Something like that?


PETER: Yeah, lots of big trees, cicadas.


MATT: Anyways, Scotty was actually out on this riding lawn mower, and we were standing there talking to his supervisor.


PETER: Right.


MATT: And then Scotty himself, like, gets off the lawnmower, comes over to us.


JAD: What did he look like?


MATT: Sunken eyes. Um, big eyes.


PETER: Pretty skinny guy.


MATT: He was wearing, like, a blue Duke ballcap.


PETER: Blue jeans.


MATT: So Scotty came over. His supervisors went on the lawnmower and started riding around. And Scotty immediately started talking.


PETER: It seemed like he wanted to tell his side of the story.


SCOTTY HATTON: He said he got sick. I'm looking online, it's like, sometimes it can take 24 hours.


MATT: And he was standing under this big oak tree, kind of like on a steep slope.


MATT: Sorry do you mind -- I just missed the front of that. You were saying that you think it’s doubtful?


SCOTTY HATTON: I think it’s very doubtful.


MATT: And he immediately started telling us that he was, like, suspicious of Scotty Whiteman's story. This whole, like, overdose by touch thing.


SCOTTY HATTON: I mean, because he only touched the -- my other co-defendant, you know? And I had washed him off. You know, I didn’t know you’re not supposed to wash someone that’s overdosing off, but I did. And this guy’s trying to say he got, you know, got infected by carfentanil. They didn’t even find any drugs on the scene. They found very little paraphernalia. But I know I’m done. It’s just one of those things. I’m going to church now. As soon as I get this ankle monitor off, I’m gonna get saved. I can’t get saved in -- with the ankle monitor. You can’t submerge it.


PETER: Where are you gonna get baptized?


SCOTTY HATTON: Um, I go to Freedom Church in Mt. Sterling. Probably gonna ask them. Being in front a bunch of people makes me kinda nervous.

MATT: We decided to meet up with him later because, lawnmower, cicadas. So we went to his aunt’s house.


PETER: He's was living there. He'd gotten evicted from his apartment after the OD.


AUNT: Well, I’m going.




AUNT: Love you, too.


SCOTTY HATTON: You’re going to see Grammy ain’t you?


AUNT: Yeah. It was nice to meet you guys.


MATT: Nice to meet you, too.


SCOTTY HATTON: My old lady’s in there. I don’t know if she really wants to participate, so ...


PETER: Jessica's in there, you're saying?


MATT: So apparently Scotty’s girlfriend, Jessica, she was the other person in the apartment for this overdose, she was also now living with Scotty at his aunt's, but she didn’t want to talk to us.


PETER: So then the three of us sat down on the couch in the living room, and Scotty just started telling us about his own story. And I think his story definitely has -- is a very, like, sort of common trajectory.


MATT: Where -- like, where'd you grow up? Was it around here?


SCOTTY HATTON: Yeah, I grew up in Bath County. I’ve been here my whole life, pretty much.


MATT: So Scotty grew up in government housing in a small apartment with his sister, his mom.


SCOTTY HATTON: She had another husband by then. Not my dad, he’s my stepdad.


PETER: His stepdad is this guy named Ricky.


MATT: Who figures pretty prominently in this story.


SCOTTY HATTON: He drank a lot. Wasn’t that good a -- wasn’t all that good a home. When I was, like, 15-16, I moved in with my grandma. And lived with my dad and my grandma. And I was into sports. I made decent grades. Now I don’t even hardly go see my dad. He caught him a case, I guess. He’s got several charges pending.


PETER: So when was the first time you used?


SCOTTY HATTON: Um, the first time I ever took narcotics I was 19.


MATT: According to Scotty, what happened was he got kidney stones.


SCOTTY HATTON: Never had a pain worse than that. Hurt so bad, I was crying.


MATT: He mentioned it to his dad.


SCOTTY HATTON: He had a motorcycle wreck, kind of messed him up. You know, he just said, "Here, you know, you can take one of my pain pills."


PETER: It was a Lortab, which is hydrocodone and acetaminophen.


MATT: Yeah. He said when he took it ...




MATT: Felt just total relief.


SCOTTY HATTON: I just liked the feeling, you know? Makes you feel really, really good.


MATT: Not long after that ...


SCOTTY HATTON: Getting his medicine, ain’t gonna lie, and then take it, you know? Take two or three, you know? And then it just, you know, got to experimenting more and more.


PETER: Started using Perc 30s, which are definitely flooding into places like Kentucky in the early 2000s. So this is like the sort of first wave of the -- the opioid crisis.


MATT: So Scotty said at first, he would just get pills from friends, people at work.


SCOTTY HATTON: And then it just, you know, got to well I started buying pills.


PETER: When did you feel like it crossed over from ...?


SCOTTY HATTON: Probably my mid-'20s.


MATT: He started taking Oxycontin. And he said he was working at the time stocking bread.


PETER: Right. He was stocking bread. He was also working in a factory.


SCOTTY HATTON: Because I’d be like, well I’d rather work than steal off somebody. And I’ve always been that way. I don’t really want to steal off people.


PETER: So you’re like, I can work and make enough money to ...


SCOTTY HATTON: It was really hard. I mean, I made $500-600 a week and you know, I wouldn’t have any left.


PETER: Because he had spent all of it on pills.


MATT: And he was doing that for years. And probably it was about, like, 2011 or '12.


SCOTTY HATTON: You know, heroin came around, and that’s when I started doing it.


PETER: Because it was cheaper? Or ...


SCOTTY HATTON: Because it was cheaper. Because I was spending $80 to $100 on two pills.


PETER: $80 to $100 for just two pills?


SCOTTY HATTON: Just two pills. You know, you might get a little bit high, and it might not last very long at all. And, you know, for $80 or $100 of heroin, you can get a lot more and it’s a lot more powerful. So it just made sense.


MATT: And Scotty told us he -- he did heroin for, like, five or six years. He didn't inject it, but he would -- he would snort it. And he says he tried to quit a couple of times, but just ...


SCOTTY HATTON: Didn’t, which is probably just an excuse for I couldn’t. I had to rock, complete rock bottom.


MATT: And for Scotty, he says that was the day of the overdoses in that apartment.




MATT: Can you pick up at some point, where do you -- where does it start?


SCOTTY HATTON: You’re probably gonna have to ask me, like, questions on this, because I’m gonna -- may shy back from some of it a little bit. So ask me again what you ...


MATT: Yeah, yeah.


PETER: So you’re living down there with Jessica and your son Gabriel?


MATT: So Jessica, Scotty’s girlfriend. The two of them have a son together, Gabriel.




PETER: And that’s her apartment. And at some point Ricky is with you guys?


MATT: Again, Ricky is his stepdad.


PETER: Or, like, why is he over there that day?


SCOTTY HATTON: Well I mean, he’s burned all his bridges.


MATT: From what we learned, it sounds like he was last living with friends and, like, they had a falling out.


PETER: Yeah, it seemed like everybody else had sort of given up on him.


SCOTTY HATTON: We felt sorry for him. He didn’t have nowhere to go. You know, you can stay here a couple of days. I mean, that was it.


MATT: And then, I don’t know. Like, where would you start with that day?


SCOTTY HATTON: Um, really don’t know where to go with this.


MATT: [laughs] It’s fine.


SCOTTY HATTON: I’m trying to not, you know, say very much.


PETER: I think last time we spoke it was, like, at some point you notice Ricky.


SCOTTY HATTON: I can go from there, probably, a little bit. You know, I was ...


MATT: So Scotty explained to us he and Jessica were in the living room of the apartment, sitting on the couch, and that at some point Ricky had gotten up and gone into the kitchen. And after a little while Scotty realized that the kitchen sink, the water in the kitchen sink had been running for awhile.


SCOTTY HATTON: And I’m like, why is the water running, you know? So I go in there ...


PETER: Goes into the kitchen and sees Ricky standing over the kitchen sink. And he said he looked ...




PETER: Frozen.


MATT: Like his arms were really stiff, his fists were sort of like clenched.




MATT: Grabbing the countertop.


SCOTTY HATTON: With his tongue plopping back and forth in his mouth. You can -- his mouth barely open. You can see it. I kind of knew what it probably was.


PETER: He’s ODing.


SCOTTY HATTON: I get a chair, and I get him -- I struggled to get him in it. I get him in a chair and he’s out. We have one of those -- not only a faucet, we’ve got one of those spray things. I was spraying him ...


MATT: Oh, that sprays for the dishes?


SCOTTY HATTON: Yeah. And I’m spraying him with cold water. I was thinking, well you know, that might wake him up. I’m washing him in the face, and I did smack him in the face a few times. He just -- he wouldn’t wake up. So then I knew we had to make the decision to call the ambulance service.


PETER: What happens next?


SCOTTY HATTON: I started getting a little bit, you know, out of it, I guess. I don’t remember a lot after that.


PETER: So I’ve listened to the 911 call. And Scotty didn’t really tell us this, and I don’t know -- I mean, it’s not that I don’t believe him, but I do think there was something -- I do think that they sort of like, in that moment they must have been a little, like, "What -- what do we do next?


[AUTOMATED DISPATCH: Tuesday August 8th, 2017.]


MATT: Because the thing is, they weren’t the first ones to call 911 that day.


[DISPATCH: Bath County 911.]


PETER: The first person to call was actually Ricky’s brother.


[RONNIE: Yeah, this is Ronnie from South Lake. I just got a phone call. My brother has ODed at Bernard Heights.]


MATT: Which means someone must have called Ricky's brother, told him what was going on. They didn't know what to do.


PETER: Because when he calls, he says something like ...


[RONNIE: They’re scared to call because they done think somebody’s got warrants and shit on them up there, and they don't want to let him die.]


PETER: Something about outstanding warrants or, like, they’re worried about outstanding warrants.


[RONNIE: Yeah, they’re trying to throw him in the car and shit.]


[DISPATCH: You don't know the apartment number?]


[RONNIE: No, sir. They won’t tell me.]


[DISPATCH: Okay. I'll try and get there as soon as they can find it.]


[RONNIE: Thank you. Bye.]


MATT: And then another thing you hear in these recordings ...


[DISPATCH: Bath County 911.]


MATT: Is this other call, which is from one of Scotty and Jessica’s neighbors.


[NEIGHBOR: One of my neighbors came over a few minutes ago and ...]


PETER: And I think she’s talking about Scotty, is that Scotty had come over to her house.


[NEIGHBOR: And he told me that his stepdad was currently overdosing in his apartment, and that they were scared to call the ambulance.]


PETER: She made him leave.


[NEIGHBOR: Because he was severely intoxicated on drugs.]


PETER: And from reading the reports, it sounds like their one-year-old son was in the apartment at the time.


JAD: Oh, whoa. Really?


MATT: Yeah, their one-year-old, Gabriel.


PETER: I think they were worried about the police coming and losing custody of their kid.


JAD: Hmm.


PETER: And so -- so, like, for them in that moment, when Ricky was lying on the floor, I think there was some questions in their mind like, "What’s the right thing to do? And how do we -- how do we do the right thing without getting ourselves in trouble?"


MATT: But …


[DISPATCH: Bath County Dispatch.]


MATT: They did make the call.


[JESSICA: Yes. I need an ambulance to Bernard Heights, apartment 301.]


PETER: Jessica calls 911.


MATT: It was two minutes after Ricky's brother made that first call.


[DISPATCH: Okay, what’s going on? Is it that overdose?]


[JESSICA: Yeah, I believe so.]




PETER: And I believe one of the reasons that they made the call that day was because they knew about this law.


SCOTTY HATTON: I didn’t know exactly what it said, I did know that it came in my mind, yeah, we’ll be okay.


PETER: A law that was designed to protect people in exactly this situation.


[POLITICIAN: The Good Samaritan law is ...]


MATT: It’s called the Good Samaritan law.


[POLITICIAN: ... was developed because we want to protect people who care about other people.]


MATT: So around 2010, 2011-12, as this opioid epidemic was escalating ...


[NEWSCAST CLIP: The House filed 238, the Good Samaritan bill.]


MATT: A lot of states starting adopting these 911 Good Samaritan laws.


PETER: 46 states, including Kentucky, now have these laws.


MATT: Which essentially say, if you’re using drugs with someone and that person overdoses ...


[NEWS CLIP: We don’t want you fearful that if you make the call that may save their life, that you’ll be in trouble.]


MATT: Like, when the police show up, you and the person who overdosed won’t be charged. You’re granted immunity because you essentially did the right thing. Like, you reached out for help.


PETER: The sort of like intent of the Good Samaritan law is to make people who are in the presence of a drug overdose, you want these people to call for help, because otherwise, you know, there’s a greater risk that these people are just gonna die.


JAD: Hmm. Where does the Good Samaritan -- I mean, it is a Christian parable, right?


PETER: We got the Bible right here. So yeah, it's a parable in the Gospel of Luke. So it’s Jesus that's telling the story. And so there is a Jew. He’s on the road to Jericho. And as he's walking along, some robbers come and they steal his money and they beat him up and they leave him in a ditch, and they essentially left him for dead. And then another person comes along the road. And -- but instead of helping him, this person like, you know, crosses the road and, like, keeps on walking. Second person comes by, same thing. And then a third person comes and it’s a Samaritan. And, like, the Jews and the Samaritans were, like, mortal enemies. Like, they absolutely detested each other. But when this Samaritan sees this Jew lying in a ditch, in need, the good Samaritan stops and he helps -- helps this guy and gives his money and shelter and -- and treats his wounds and, you know, essentially saves his life. So it’s a story about, like ...


JAD: Showing kindness to your enemy.


PETER: Mm-hmm. Or your enemy showing kindness to you.


JAD: Yeah, right.


PETER: I guess the other thing that’s interesting about this, is that Jesus is talking to a legal scholar. And so it’s sort of about setting up, like, morality versus the law. And -- and so I guess what he's saying is if you see someone that’s in need, you don’t think about what the law says you should or shouldn’t do, you -- you just -- you just help the person in need. It’s like, you know, unconditional love, like, takes precedent over -- over the letter of the law.


JAD: But then of course, there is the law.


MAN: Ronnie? Those New York reporters are here to stick a microphone in your face.


MATT: And what seems to be happening across the country is prosecutors are beginning to push back against the Good Samaritan.


MAN: Come on in, guys.


MATT: Thank you.


PETER: So we talked to this guy, Ronnie Goldy. He's the Commonwealth attorney, and he's also the lead prosecutor in the case against Ricky, Jessica and Scotty.


RONNIE GOLDY: It’s kind of weird that you guys got this from, out of New York. And it’s just not something that I would have expected, certainly. Because, you know, we’re used to our own little problems down here. And I assume you’ve got bigger problems in New York to deal with than -- than what we were dealing with. But that’s fine. I mean, I’m glad that you guys got down this way.


JAD: So what did he say to you about the case?


PETER: So as Ronnie sort of explained it to us ...


RONNIE GOLDY: You go back with our legislature and the way they have drafted the Good Samaritan law ...


PETER: The way the law is written in Kentucky is that if you call 911 for a drug overdose, you’re only granted immunity for two specific types of charges.


RONNIE GOLDY: You cannot charge them with possession of controlled substance.


PETER: Drug possession.


RONNIE GOLDY: Or possession of drug paraphernalia.


PETER: Drug paraphernalia.


RONNIE GOLDY: Just those two charges. Well, we didn’t charge them with possession. We charged them with wanton endangerment.


MATT: And this is where you see this sort of pushback. Wanton endangerment, that's a legal term for when you do something that puts somebody at risk for physical injury or death.


RONNIE GOLDY: It’s a conscious disregard for what could occur.


PETER: It’s like driving drunk.

MATT: So in this situation ...


RONNIE GOLDY: So by having the drugs everywhere that were laced with fentanyl, you created a risk number one of the child being seriously injured or killed based on an overdose or other injuries. And also you placed paramedics, law enforcement and social workers, that would have to come in under that -- that circumstance.


PETER: So rather than granting Scotty, Ricky and Jessica protection, Ronnie Goldy, Commonwealth of Kentucky, has charged them with 10 counts of felony wanton endangerment. So each one of them are getting hit with 10 felony charges.


JAD: Whoa, why 10?


PETER: So there was one charge for endangering the child. So like, the -- the one-year-old could have gotten into the drugs somehow, and -- and become exposed that way. And then there was one additional -- there were nine additional charges, one for each of the -- the people that came to the house that day: the police, the social workers and all the EMS that responded.


MATT: And I think we should say here that Jessica, who's now facing these 10 felony charges, the day of the overdose she actually tested negative for opiates.


PETER: Right. And their kid checked out okay, too.


MATT: But I think she’s -- she’s now facing these charges because essentially she -- she made that call. She was, like, in the apartment and made the call. The other thing to mention is that, like, the thing that she and Scotty were scared of, which was losing custody of their son, that -- that did happen.


SCOTTY HATTON: I'm not mad about that. I understand that. I understand that aspect, you know? Drug stuff found in the home, you know? They took him. I understand that. As far as the other things? 10 felonies? I don't understand 'em.


PETER: But Ronnie’s argument is that, because of the number of people who had been overdosing in the community, because of the local and national news reporting about heroin being laced with drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, that you can argue ...


RONNIE GOLDY: It’s a risk you knew was out there, but yet you’re using anyway. You should know better.


MATT: So it feels like, I don’t know -- I don’t know if loophole is the right word, but it’s a way in which you can still, as you've said, like you’re precluded from bringing charges for possession of drugs and paraphernalia, but, like, there is this sort of side door to be like, "Well, we can charge you for this."


RONNIE GOLDY: No, that’s not the case at all. It’s not like we’re trying to say, "Okay, we don’t like the Good Samaritan law, let’s go around it." That’s not how I work, that’s not how we work.


PETER: This is the thing I don’t really understand. It seems like the net effect of the Good Samaritan law is to sort of reduce fatalities, and it seems like that the data I have seen it’s, like, rather successful in reducing fatalities. So you are, by encouraging people to call 911, you are reducing fatalities. And in this case, if they hadn’t called 911, it’s possible that Ricky Mase, the patient would have died. So in some ways I feel like ...


RONNIE GOLDY: Sure, I get it. And I totally understand it. I totally understand the reason behind it. But what I may thing morally or personally, I don’t have that luxury. I have a statute that I have to follow, because when I took the oath of office, I said I would uphold the laws of the Commonwealth. And if it’s a crime, it’s a crime. I don’t get to say, "Well, but they were trying to do the right thing." If it’s a crime, it’s a crime and I have to pursue it.


MATT: We actually -- we talked to another prosecutor involved in this case.




PETER: Kim Hunt Price.


KIM HUNT PRICE: These people are victims.


PETER: She's the County Attorney who indicted Ricky, Scotty and Jessica.


KIM HUNT PRICE: You know, you have people whose jobs are to protect the public, who have to be there. You know, the message needs to go out there: these people are protected as well.


PETER: But there wasn’t, like, pressure -- people weren’t calling you locally, or there wasn’t somebody from, like, the state ...


KIM HUNT PRICE: No, no. There was no -- like, no one calling from the state or anything like that. I mean, I just had my local people, you know, that were concerned about it. And ...


PETER: Was it the people who were there were calling you or, like ...


KIM HUNT PRICE: I kind of think one of them did call me. You know, and just say, "Is there anything we can do, you know, with regard to this? Is there an appropriate criminal charge?"


PETER: Do you remember who that was off the top of your head?


KIM HUNT PRICE: I believe Mr. Whiteman is who did.




MATT: When we talked to Scotty Whiteman, we asked him essentially why was it that he wanted to see these people charged.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I view it as a call for accountability. If they're doing heroin, we'll get out here and we'll roll around in the yard for a week. I have no issues with that. But when you do something that could cause harm to me, I've got a problem with that.


MATT: I think, like, I understand that, but ultimately also feel like that they truly didn't know that, like, this is a drug that somebody could, like, brush up against or something like that, and potentially have a reaction. That there's just not enough knowledge there for them to have even -- even a sense of the fact that they could be endangering other people. And then to know that you'd been through this experience with this accident, I always kind of felt like, oh I'm just surprised that -- that you wouldn't maybe extend to them a sort of, like -- I don't know if sympathy's the right word, but ...


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I think that if you harm someone, you should be held accountable. You guys know now that I’m going on vacation. You know, September the 16th is a hard day.


MATT: That's the anniversary of his truck accident where he killed three people.


MATT: Is that Sunday?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Yes. Because -- yep. So Sunday I will probably lock myself in a room away from everybody for the biggest part of the morning. If I’m scheduled to work on September the 16th, it’s a day that I take off from -- from the morning 'til noon is time for me to pay my respects to them. And even though here we are coming up on 19 years later, I still do that. And it’s just -- it’s just my way of dealing with it, I guess.


MATT: What do you do in that moment, when you’re -- when you isolate yourself?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: It’s one of those that I reflect on that morning, and I still try to figure out if there was anything that I could’ve done different that may have changed the outcome. What could I have done, me personally? I still have nightmares. I still wake up in cold sweats. I just ...


MATT: I’m curious, you mentioned this -- not yesterday, I mean last time we were here, that -- so initially I think there was a lawsuit filed by the family against the company, but then there was a civil suit that you had to go through that you said eventually bankrupted you. And what I’m wondering is, like, did you feel that was deserved? Do you feel like that was justified?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: Yes. Yes. I took three members of that family away from them. That took potential earnings away from that family. Birthdays and Christmases missed with those that were taken that day. So yeah, I feel they were very justified. I was held accountable for my actions of that morning. And then when you look at the exposure case, he needs to be accountable for those actions because he knew the risks that were involved.


PETER: Right. Just as I think, like, getting behind the wheel of a truck, you know, on September 16, 1999. You know there could be consequences but, you never -- that’s why it’s an accident, right? It's like the same thing. If he had taken, like, I don’t know, two milligrams less of the drug, it’s like, those seem like really -- those seem like very similar situations almost. And I guess I’m just like wondering, like, what’s -- why is it hard to forgive him for that?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I didn’t say I didn’t forgive him for it. It’s just I think he needs to be held accountable for his actions.


PETER: I mean like, all of that sort of like brings us to the -- the big question in this story. What happened that day? Because if we’re gonna hold Scotty Hatton accountable for what happened to Scotty Whiteman, you need to be able to show that the drugs in the apartment or whatever was on Ricky’s skin, like, could actually cause him to overdose.


JAD: Do you have any -- do you have any reason to doubt that?


PETER: Well, the reason I found this story was it was reported as a credible report in the New York Times. Like, everybody sort of acknowledged that, you know, first responders were going down all across the country.




PETER: But when I talked to John Cole, the toxicologist from earlier, he said ...


JOHN COLE: Well, I don’t doubt any of the symptoms that any of these fire, EMS and police officers have experienced ...


PETER: He was skeptical.


JOHN COLE: It’s not 100 percent clear if that’s actually due to the fentanyl, or to some other event that occurred in those moments.


PETER: And John Cole wasn’t alone. I mean, I started calling, like, doctors and toxicologists, pharmacologists, and they said that, like, the risk that fentanyl posed to first responders was extremely low.


JAD: Why? What was their -- what was their thinking?


PETER: Well for one, I mean like, the powder doesn’t spontaneously aerosolize. It doesn’t, like, poof into that air. So that makes breathing it in pretty unlikely. And as far as the skin to skin contact thing ...


JOHN COLE: It’s so poorly absorbed ...


PETER: That the, like, substance itself doesn’t pass through the skin easily.


JOHN COLE: To get fentanyl to absorb through your skin, you have to use a special matrix to be able to ...


PETER: You know, if you want to make a fentanyl patch, you have to sort of use these solvents.


JOHN COLE: To get the absorption to even be to the point where it’s therapeutic, let alone an overdose.


PETER: Even if you put a fentanyl patch on, it takes -- takes a very long time for the drug to sort of like achieve a meaningful dose in the body.


JAD: But something is happening to these people. I mean, you have to assume. So if it’s not the drugs, what is it?


PETER: So yeah, what John Cole and a couple of other people brought up was this idea that maybe it wasn’t the external situation that they're in. It was more -- it was more something internal.


JOHN COLE: There’s no question in my mind that every one of these people felt symptoms that are very real.


PETER: But John said the symptoms don’t -- don’t really match to the symptoms of a typical opiate overdose.


JOHN COLE: For instance, hyperventilating.


PETER: On opioids, you're usually breathing slower.


JOHN COLE: Not breathing faster.


PETER: Or a lot of first responders reported feeling ...


JOHN COLE: A sense of great impending doom.


PETER: Opioids are all about ...


JOHN COLE: Serenity and pleasure, not impending doom.


PETER: And so if you look at the symptoms and sort of the stories that are being told about these new substances and these new situations in our culture right now, he says it kind of looks like a mass -- a mass panic.


JOHN COLE: So there is a condition called mass psychogenic illness.


PETER: This is something that John Cole says that he's actually come across in his work at the Minnesota Poison Control.


JOHN COLE: There was a school event and a bunch of ...


PETER: He said about four or five years ago, there was this incident at a public school in Minnesota where a bunch of kids started, like, keeling over because they thought it was like carbon monoxide poisoning.


JOHN COLE: Subsequent student after student began to feel ill.


PETER: They took all these kids to the hospital and they gave them blood tests.


JOHN COLE: None of the blood levels were positive for carbon monoxide.


PETER: Just didn’t check out.


JOHN COLE: And once the medical conditions are ruled out from a known poison, you have to start considering other causes. And that event was consistent with this condition called mass psychogenic illness.


PETER: And so when you think about, you know, first responders showing up at the scene of a drug overdose, and what's running through their mind is this, like, constant onslaught of news reports and other sort of anecdotal accounts they've heard about their -- their friends and their colleagues that are, you know, passing out.


JOHN COLE: It isn’t -- it isn’t that anybody is crazy or weak, it’s that their mind is causing them to be physically ill. They really are sick. But it isn’t necessarily due to the thing that they believe that it is in the moment. Does that make sense?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: My response to that is ...


PETER: So we told Scotty what we knew, what these scientists had been saying. And Scotty says basically like look, they can say whatever they want to in their labs, but this is what I went through.


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: I just know the effects of that day. That I came in contact with something that put me in an overdosing situation.


[RICKY MASE: Ricky Mase.]


[AUTOMATED VOICE: An inmate at the Clark County Detention Center, Kentucky. The charges for your call have been accepted.]




PETER: Hi Ricky, this is Peter Smith. I’m a reporter ...


PETER: So I ended up sending a postcard to the jail, because the jails don’t accept letters because they are afraid of drugs getting in. And a week later I get a call from Ricky Mase. Ricky is Scotty’s stepfather, and he's also the person who overdosed who Scotty Whiteman treated. And he told me that there wasn’t -- there wasn’t a whole lot of toxicology evidence or medical records, or -- or much of anything really. But he had agreed to a plea deal for all 10 wanton endangerment charges.


RICKY MASE: Yes, I pled guilty. I took three years. I mean, I was more or less forced. That's it.


PETER: You said you were more or less forced?




PETER: Because Ricky's a repeat felony offender, he was looking at, like, 20 years instead of the three that he took.


RICKY MASE: Well that's the message you're putting out there, is if anybody ODs then you throw them in a ditch. And, you know, leave them. It's the message that the court system's putting out to people. That's the way I take it.


PETER: And how -- how does that make you feel? I mean, is that ...


RICKY MASE: Ah, not good.


PETER: Yeah.


RICKY MASE: I mean ...


PETER: 'Cause it seems like if they didn’t call, we wouldn’t be talking right now.


RICKY MASE: Do what?


PETER: I said if they hadn’t called 911 that day, like the Good Samaritan law sort of says you can, doesn’t seem like we would be talking right now.


RICKY MASE: They did the right thing.


PETER: Yeah.


RICKY MASE: More or less. Now they’re paying for what they’ve done.


SCOTTY HATTON: Anything else you want to ask? I'm sorry. I could just ramble on all day.


MATT: Unlike Ricky, Scotty has refused to take a plea deal. Instead, he's going to risk up to 20 years in jail by taking his case to trial.


SCOTTY HATTON: I think about it every day. Every day at work for at least a couple hours I think about it. And the same answer comes up every day, I have to take it to trial. I mean, I don't -- I don't want them doing this to, you know, everybody, man. That -- they're gonna be afraid to call 911.


MATT: I feel like for me, like, given the way it's gone, given the way people and how they think about drugs, like, I just -- I don’t know if I would have the same sort of confidence or conviction.


SCOTTY HATTON: I understand where you’re coming from. That’s what my lawyer says, too. I think when a few things comes to light, you know, like, they may say, "Well, he did get sick," well, we’re gonna say, "Well, he didn’t test positive for anything. Could have been something else." Every little bit of doubt that you create is reasonable doubt to, you know -- and all you gotta do is convince one person on that jury to say, "No, I’m not doing it." That’s all you gotta do.


PETER: Obviously the jury will be making a decision about the case and about what happened in the apartment that day. But I think there is sort of a bigger sort of more consequential message that they'll be sending about what people like Scotty and Scotty should believe and what they should fear. And what they should do going forward.


MATT: If these charges end up getting dismissed, or if it goes to trial and the people are found not guilty for wanton endangerment, like, how are you gonna feel?


SCOTTY WHITEMAN: If they're found not guilty then I'm gonna trust in the judicial system that there was things that come to light that maybe I wasn't aware of, and if they're not found guilty then so be it. And if he goes out and uses again and I'm on shift when it happens and I walk in and see him, guess what? I'm gonna treat him. My job is to do everything within my power to save his life. And that's what I'm gonna do.


MATT: And I asked the other Scotty ...


MATT: Would you make the same call? Do you think other people would make the same call, like, if this is what’s on the end of the call potentially?


SCOTTY HATTON: No, they won’t make the call. They’ll try to -- most people, depending on who they are, they’ll probably try to just leave the person. Drag him outside or something like that, you know? People in jail were saying do that. Or, you know, cover up everything at the crime scene or whatever, you know? Or just not call. Like I said, if I knew there would've been 10 felonies, man, I -- I don’t know, man. You still got to call. The guy can’t die. That’s what I believe. I really believe that, man.


MATT: When Scotty Hatton first got arrested for the wanton endangerment charges, he spent six months in jail. After getting out, he now attends church every Sunday with his family.


SCOTTY HATTON: What are you watching? Veggie Tales?


BABY: [unintelligible]


MATT: He and Jessica actually got custody back of their son Gabriel.


SCOTTY HATTON: You like Veggie Tales?


BABY: [unintelligible]


SCOTTY HATTON: That’s a tomato.


BABY: [unintelligible]


SCOTTY HATTON: Yeah. That’s a tomato.


BABY: [unintelligible]


SCOTTY HATTON: That’s a cucumber.


BABY: [unintelligible]


MATT: And both he and Jessica …


LAWYER: Judge I think at this point I think you need to go ahead and set a trial date out.


MATT: Have pending trials scheduled for December.


JAD: Okay, reporter Peter Smith and Matt Kielty.


ROBERT: Also, special thanks in this episode to Cecil Lawson and Jason York and Gary Buehlert, and all the EMTs and the medics who generously allowed us to go around and ride with them, see what they saw.


JAD: Exactly. And Todd Towton, John Sunderland, Chris Skiply, Dr. David Urlink, Dr. Dan Chechuroni, Fiona Thomas, Dr. Ken Williams.


ROBERT: And Corey S. Davis.


JAD: I’m Jad Abumrad.


ROBERT: I’m Robert Krulwich.


JAD: Thanks for listening.


[JAMES MEEHAN: Hi, this is James Meehan from Denver, Colorado. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Nora Keller, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, W. Harry Fortuna and Audrey Quinn. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.]