5 People Who Broke the Law to Save Lives

Stopping people from cutting your son open might land you one year in jail
5 People Who Broke the Law to Save Lives

Whenever we sit ourselves down to draft some system of laws, we’re guaranteed to include some variation of do not kill. Even when this rule is not explicitly laid out, you can assume it still exists, unwritten. Next time your supervisor goes over some new policies and opens the room for questions, ask, “Yeah, one quick thing: Are we allowed to kill anyone?” 

Your supervisor will reply, “Good question. No, you’re not allowed to kill anyone. That’s against the rules.”

Sometimes, however, the rules also say you’re not allowed to save anyone. That goes double if your methods for salvation are slightly unorthodox. Consider how everyone reacted, when...

A Dad Used a Gun to Keep the Organ Hunters From His Son

In January 2015, Texas’ Tomball Regional Medical Center figured that George Pickering was dead. His heart was still beating, thanks to life support, but a stroke had sent him into a coma, and they thought he had no brain activity. Staff prepared to pull the plug on the 27-year-old. They informed an organ donation center that they were about to receive some delicious new organs from a freshly deceased individual. 

The patient’s father, also named George Pickering, didn’t support this course of action. So, he left the hospital for a bit and returned with a 9 mm handgun. “I’ll kill all of you!” he said, keeping anyone from initiating the fatal procedure known as a terminal wean. This dad was soon disarmed by a second son of his, the only person he’d allow to get close enough to him. This did not stop him. “I was in the Boy Scouts, you think I only have one gun?” he screamed. 

The Last of Us hospital


Here he is depicted in the HBO docudrama The Last of Us.

That was a very confusing question, as Boy Scouts aren’t known for carrying multiple firearms and are instead most known for being courteous and kind. In fact, to understand any of the man’s actions that day, you need to know that he was drunk at the time. Still, the threat was sufficient to force an hours-long standoff with police. During this time, the patient — who was supposedly braindead — squeezed his father’s hand. This was enough to convince the rapacious docs that they needed to reverse course and maintain life-sustaining care.

Police arrested the dad, who spent the remainder of the year in jail, for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. But the son went on to wake up and recovered completely, so there’s a lesson here about how death panels should hesitate before issuing their sentences. 

The other lesson here, of course, is don’t bring a scalpel to a gunfight. 

Someone Broke an Evacuation Order to Save Dogs and Cats

A wildfire burned through Alberta in 2016, destroying 2,000 buildings. The government ordered an evacuation, and 88,000 people left. For many of these families, that meant leaving their pets behind. 

Lee Ellis delayed leaving, and a friend asked him to check on their cat. Ellis did so, then he heard some dogs barking in a nearby yard and checked on them, too. When he posted about these animals online, others asked him to look in on their animals as well, including fish, birds and bunnies. They sent him their door codes so he could enter their houses and told him where they stored the pet food. During his quest, Ellis had to avoid the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who ultimately did catch him and forced him to the evacuation point. 

Lee Ellis saving rabbit

Lee Ellis

This is when an army of dogs and rabbits should have arrived to free him.

By the way, when evacuees are forced to leave pets behind, that’s a bad rule. It’s fails at the very thing it tries to accomplish (a speedy, orderly human evacuation) because it discourages people from evacuating. We discovered this during Hurricane Katrina, and the U.S. government responded by passing the Pet Evacuation & Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which takes pets into account during disaster operations. 

The Bush administration may have had its flaws, but it was amazing at passing acts that cleverly used acronyms. 

The Man Who Spared the Bears

Speaking of saving animals, and of U.S. presidents, you’ve all heard the story about Teddy Roosevelt sparing a bear, right, the incident that led to the concept of teddy bears? That story isn’t quite true — Roosevelt actually ordered the bear killed, and then ate it — but it speaks to our general understanding that sometimes, it’s honorable to spare a bear. 

In 2015, Bryce Casavant from the British Columbia Ministry of Environment was ordered to kill a black bear who’d been spotted rifling through an outdoor meat freezer. Rules say officers have to kill such bears, because when a bear acquires a taste for human food, there’s no turning back. Casavant followed through on the order. The bear also had two cubs. The order said they had to die as well, and here, Casavant drew the line. 

Florida black bear cubs in den

Florida Fish and Wildlife

Let’s assume the cubs were as cute as these ones. 

Instead, he took the cubs to a vet, who took them to an animal rescue center, who ultimately judged that they could be safely released back into the wild. For this, the ministry fired Casavant. The man spent the next five years contesting the firing, and a court ultimately vindicated him. Casavant had previously served in Afghanistan and had some strong views about when someone should refuse to follow an order.

It’s possible that even the policy of killing the mother bear was misguided. Not all bears pose a danger. A polar bear will rip your head off, but a black bear may just give you a friendly nod and continue on its way. In fact... Hold on, our lawyers have just informed us that we must tell you to exercise caution around bears of any sort, and to never give a bear a high-five. 

A Lifeguard Got Fired for Guarding a Life

In 2003, Hallandale Beach in Florida decided it needed to save money on lifeguards. It now contracted the job out to a private company, who’d staff the beach with four lifeguards for less than the city otherwise paid. Some years later, this company fired one of their guards — for assisting with a rescue. 

The issue, said the company, was that the drowning man was swimming outside lifeguard Tomas Lopez’s assigned zone. More specifically, the drowning man, whose name has been kept private, possibly because he’s a spy, was swimming in an area designated as “unprotected,” so if he ran into some trouble out there, that was his own fault. 

10 Hallandale Beach

Hugh Millward

As the official lifeguard motto puts it, “If he dies, he dies.” 

The real issue, said the company, was that by leaving his own zone to go save the life of someone a little south of there, Lopez had left his own area unattended, which opened the company up to all kinds of liability. But no swimmers in Lopez’s own area actually did need any help during his time away. The other lifeguards assigned to the beach naturally sided with Lopez. “What was he supposed to do?” said one. “Watch a man drown?” Two of them quit in protest. This was on the eve of Fourth of July, potentially leaving the entire beach vulnerable to a visit by Jaws. 

The company relented and offered Lopez his job back. He turned them down, figuring that maybe working for 58 cents above minimum wage wasn’t really the best use of his time. 

A Home Depot Guy Got Fired for Foiling a Kidnapping

Our final hero also found himself fired for leaving his post. The man was Dillon Reagan, and he worked at a Home Depot in Portland. Four years into his job, in 2017, he heard some kind of disturbance going on in the parking lot. The way he later described it, he came upon a woman shouting to him, “Somebody help me please! He’s stealing my kid! He’s kidnapping my child!”

Reagan called the police, and he then tailed the kidnapper on foot. According to him, the police dispatcher asked him to do this second part, which we’re a bit skeptical about since no police have confirmed it. But this meant that after the police did catch up with the kidnapper, Reagan delayed returning to work until he’d given the police his statement. 

When he did return to duty, he explained his absence with a story that his supervisor probably didn’t believe. It took another month of review for Home Depot to decide how to respond, at which point they fired him. Reagan now contacted the Oregon Employment Department about unemployment benefits, resulting in this extraordinary official summation of the incident: “You were employed by The Home Depot until June 19, 2017 when you were fired because you assisted the police in preventing a kidnapping. This was not a willful or wantonly negligent violation of the standards of behavior an employer has the right to expect of an employee.” 

Officially certified as “not wanton.” It’s every employee’s dream.

Much like with the lifeguard case, Home Depot later reversed their decision and welcomed Reagan back, but Reagan decided to turn them down. Then Reagan decided to reverse his own decision and return to his old job after all. After all, if he wasn’t there chasing down evildoers with a two-by-four, who would?

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