Judge dismisses drug charges; good Samaritans don’t finish last

ST. GEORGE – In accordance with the so-called Good Samaritan overdose law, prosecutors are not pursuing charges against 20-year-old Chelsea Hunerlach, who was arrested after reporting a drug overdose last month.

“Our decision was based on the statute,” Washington County Deputy Attorney Bryan Wheat said, “and also the policy that we’d rather have someone call and help someone who has overdosed, than have them be worried about criminal charges and maybe abandon somebody, and have a death result from that.”

Additionally, Wheat said:

The idea behind the Good Samaritan statute, is that we want someone to not be afraid to call the police when they are reporting an overdose of someone who’s incapacitated or is suffering overdose symptoms.

The overdose

Hunerlach was arrested on drug charges the evening of Sept. 11, after calling for help when her ex-husband, Jon Vincent Paxman, 22, of St. George, overdosed on heroin in a room at the Coronada Inn & Suites in St. George.

Upon entering the hotel room, first responders found Paxman lying on the floor, according to court documents. Paramedics were able to revive him with Narcan, an opioid antagonist, and ground ambulance transported him to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.

Paxman was also arrested on drug charges and booked into the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility after he was released from the hospital.

“I’m glad that Mr. Paxman is OK,” Wheat said. “I’m glad that something tragic didn’t happen there and I’m glad that Miss Hunerlach was able to call for some help. I’m certainly glad that this didn’t end in a worse way – that’s the most important thing here.”

The law

The Overdose Reporting Amendments, also referred to as the Good Samaritan Law, was signed by Gov. Herbert in March with a purpose of reducing deaths related to drug overdoses by encouraging people to call emergency officials without fear that they might be arrested for drug possession.

The law is designed to give immunity and offer legal protection to any Good Samaritan who reports an overdosing victim in good faith and then continues to cooperate with rescue personnel.


Read more: Overdose law gives immunity to drug-using good Samaritans; Washington County statistics

The way it works

“The statutory language is that it is an affirmative defense,” Wheat said, “and so it’s a lot like self-defense in a lot of situations. It’s where you’ve still broken the law but yet, you have an affirmative defense that excuses you based on your behavior and, in this case, reporting the overdose in good faith, cooperating with the emergency officials to help the person get treatment and informing them of what’s going on.”

Although in some jurisdictions the law works as a shield, in Utah, the good Samaritan can still be arrested, Wheat said, they just have to employ that affirmative defense.

Hunerlach’s attorney, Larry Meyers, said the affirmative defense means:

If the county continues to prosecute then you have to raise that affirmative defense at trial and the person who’s deciding the case would find the facts. There would be a jury instruction that says this is what you’re looking for and if these facts are met then you should find her not guilty based on affirmative defense.

Meyers said, in his view, the county attorney’s office should dismiss Hunerlach’s charges.

The good Samaritan

After being arrested on a Thursday evening, Hunerlach’s mother, Chelley Bullis, hired Meyers to represent her daughter in order to have her released from the correctional facility as quickly as possible due to medical concerns.

Hunerlach spent the weekend incarcerated. Four days later, on a Monday afternoon, Hunerlach was released on an O.R. order – a release on her own recognizance, which is a no-cost bail – with a hearing set for Oct. 6 before Judge John J. Walton of the county’s 5th District Court.

Since that time, Wheat chose not to pursue charges against Hunerlach and the judge dismissed the charges. Hunerlach does not have to appear in court.

The overdoser

Paxman’s charges have not and will not be dropped in this situation, Wheat said, because the affirmative defense doesn’t apply to him.

“If you’ve overdosed and you’re found in possession of drugs like Mr. Paxman was, well,” Wheat said, “then that’s clearly a possession situation – that’s clearly a situation where he’s violated the law and the statute does not cover him. He’s not the one that reported it.”

Wheat went on to say that he’s not sure exactly what would happen in a situation where the person who overdosed reported themselves and was found in possession of drugs.

“In the end,” Wheat said, “you want to save lives that might be lost otherwise if someone’s too scared to call the police or to call for emergency help and that’s the idea there.”

Ed. CORRECTION: Hunerlach was arrested on Sept. 11, not Oct. 11.

Resources

Related posts

Email: kscott@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

33 Comments

  • Koolaid October 4, 2014 at 8:28 am

    It’s fundraiser time

  • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Our voices were heard. #freechelsea…..#turnyourlifearound….no more heroin Chelsea :)… This is how the good Samaritan law is suppose to work….no prosecution but there really shouldn’t have been an arrest that day perhaps next time it will be turned over to prosecutors to evaluate with no arrest for the individual at the time of overdose and calling of 911.

    And I say this because a baby was left in a hot car and died and no arrest was made, and no charges brought. But chelsea saved a life and got arrested!!! backwards don’t you think

    • CALI GIRL October 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

      THERE is something really wrong if a child died in a car….and they were not charged with manslaughter or homicide. This sounds like a error in judgment both legally and on the caretaker’s part.

    • Mark Vinclio October 5, 2014 at 9:39 am

      no not really let the drug users be scared and die that’s another way.. the best way to fight drugs in the USA.

      • ladybugavenger October 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm

        This isn’t about fighting drugs…its about calling 911 when someone overdoses without fear of prosecution….this laws intent is not the intent to fight drugs.

      • ladybugavenger October 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        If only they were scared to die, they just don’t care about nothing other than there next fix..They don’t care if they live or die, if they go to jail or not, if they steal from you or not. They don’t care if they hurt you, nothing. Their friend overdosing won’t stop them from getting high… They just don’t care.. They need the fear of God. So Mark, if it would work I’m with ya on that but I’m not convinced that will work. But if you can scare my son off meth, I’d appreciate.it. hes in vegas now but whatever you can do cuz he’s done sucked the strength out of me. And Joanna, my sons a junkie, not proud just saying. Maybe you two can kick the stupid out of him, my legs hurt.

  • joanna October 4, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I wish we could think of a better name for it than “Good Samaritan” Law in this case. I would hardly call either of these junkies “good Samaritans”, but kudos to her for not just letting her husband lay on the floor and die.

    • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 10:20 am

      Joanna, you seem to quickly call call these two junkies but What do a call a mother that leaves her baby in a hot car and the baby dies an outrageously horrible death as its blood boils inside the body- a “good mother”? Did you donate to her fundraiser? Junkies are people too, and Chelsea saved a life unlike the mother that took one. The mother wasn’t arrested but Chelsea was. Who’s the good one in this scenario. That would be Chelsea. And she got arrested.

      • joanna October 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm

        Wow…a lot of questions here. Well first, I’d call that baby’s mom “negligent”. I can’t believe you think she’s a “good mother”. What’s wrong with you? And no I didn’t donate, but since you keep bringing it up, were you the one who started the fund, and are you using this forum to drum up donations? If so, shame on you. And yes, junkies are people too: people who do drugs. What’s your point?

        • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 6:56 pm

          Lets see, I was one of the first to say negligent and not a good mother while a backslashing of support for her came in….just seeing if we are on the same team

          • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm

            And one more comment….in my opinion :), if the girl had overdosed and the guy was there in that position he wouldnt have called 911 to save her life, he would have ran like a coward in my opinion ( oh yes I already said that)

    • CALI GIRL October 4, 2014 at 10:26 am

      JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE IS AROUND PEOPLE WHO DO DRUGS OR RECREATIONALLY TRY / USE DRUGS DOESN’T MEAN THEY ARE JUNKIES. THIS IS 2014 STG IS INFESTED WITH TAR IT IS THE CHEAPEST FORM OF DRUG OUT THERE THESE DAYS….MOST KIDS WILL ADMIT TO HAVING TRIED IT, AND FOR THOSE WHO ARE JUNKIES….WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE AS DO YOU. LOOK AT THE BOOKINGS GOOD JOB TO THE STG/WASH POLICE FORCE, FOR GETTING DRUGS OFF THE STREET.

      • joanna October 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm

        Come on now. They were in a cheap motel shooting heroin, not sneaking behind the garage to light up a doobie.

    • Koolaid October 4, 2014 at 10:44 am

      “Good Samaritan” law encompasses many situations. Maybe you shouldn’t think everything has a religious connection. How about those “saints” who are doing drugs, beating their spouses, discriminate, are racists, doing inappropriate and illegal things with animals and small children, and other things that I wouldn’t consider as saintly? Just keep the tithing up to date and they are worthy of being “saints”. Go figure.

  • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 9:48 am

    MOM, its unfortunate you had to hire an attorney, but, I’m glad you did because I don’t think a public defender would have worked on your daughters behalf and gotten this dismissed before trial, in my opinion. Chelsea you have a second chance in life,
    Use it!!! Stay away from drugs and people that do them. Its a dark path as you may have found out or are finding out. Good luck!

    • Mark Vinclio October 5, 2014 at 9:40 am

      what do you want to bet she uses drugs again probably right now I’m going to watch the booking…second chance blah blah blah!

  • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 10:02 am

    MOM, its unfortunate you had to hire an attorney, but, I’m glad you did because I don’t think a public defender would have worked on your daughters behalf and gotten this dismissed before trial, in my opinion. Chelsea you have a second chance in life,
    Use it!!! Stay away from drugs and people that do them. Its a dark path as you may have found out or are finding out. Good luck!

    I really don’t see how the law worked as a deterrant for leaving a person to die in a situation that a person overdosed. She was arrested, she spent the weekend in jail, and her mom had to hire an attorney ( that’s expensive). The next overdose may not get that 912 call to save their life because of what happened to Chelsea when she did call 911…..the word is on the streets you will get arrested, you will spend time in jail, and you will have to hire an attorney…the good samaritan law failed at its purpose. The law did not work to encourage calling 911 without fear…. How are you gonna fix this county attorney before the next overdose.

  • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 10:04 am

    *911

  • MOM October 4, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Great job KIM…Readers please stay tuned …
    A LCSW IS A THERAPIST NOT A DR. IT IS NOT CHELSEA’S FAULT SHE GOT ARRESTED ON ON THURSDAY NIGHT. NOT EVERYONE LIES TO GET SPECIAL PRIVILEGES.
    AND I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE IN THIS SITUATION WITH A CHRONICALLY ILL ADULT CHILD. TO THE COUPLE IN COURT WHO I MET WITH AT THE JAIL PLEASE REACH OUT SO WE HAVE ANOTHER VOICE TO MAKE POSITIVE CHANGES AS FAR AS MEDICAL IS CONCERNED AT THE JAIL. THE JAIL IS NOT EQUIPPED TO TREAT THE CHRONICALLY ILL AND IF SOMETHING DOESN’T CHANGE & SOON THEY WILL KILL SOMEONE DUE TO NOT KNOWING WHEN OR HOW TO RESPOND AS TRAINED PERSONAL ARE NOT THERE 24/7. ALSO TO THE STAFF MEMBER THAT THREATENED CHELSEA SHAME ON YOU.
    Ed. ellipsis.

    • DAVE RABBITT October 4, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Why is it not Chelsea’s fault, that she was arrested on that Thursday night? Was she there against her will? Was that syringe full of heroin planted in her purse?
      Did she have no clue, that she and Mr. Paxman were doing something that was considered illegal?

      Don’t blame your daughters specific requirements for her specific medical needs, on what you view as an “ill-equipped” facility. It would have been highly irresponsible and consequently legally detrimental, for the staff at that facility to take HER and YOUR “word of it” that she needed certain medication, without first checking with her doctor and then making a professional assessment.

      Now, instead of thanking the judge and the staff at the facility for being “especially lenient”, all you’re doing is complaining about things they need to change and a staff member who was allegedly rude?

      Why don’t you concentrate on “things that YOU need to change” and help your daughter concentrate on “things that SHE needs to change”, rather than shifting the blame onto something / someone else?

      And BTW – Your submitted comment in “ALL CAPS”, speaks volumes of YOUR current special needs. Just sayin’.

  • boyd October 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

    How can someone be arrested on Oct. 11th. spend 4 days in Jail and have a court hearing on Oct. 6th.?

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic October 4, 2014 at 11:42 am

      They can’t. Our mistake, Boyd, Ms. Hunerlach was arrested on Sept. 11. Correction made, thank you so much.
      ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

  • ladybugavenger October 4, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    The headline is misleading because it is the county attorney that did not pursue the charges because he couldn’t WIN the case, therefore, the judge had no choice but to dismiss for there is no case. No case, no pursuit to go any further. Its not like the county attorney pursued and the judge dismissed it. The judge had no other option but to dismiss, so why does the judge get the glory of dismissing it as if he’s a hero?

  • SocietyProblemo October 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Ya if your in a cheap motel in the town you live in and your sticking needles in your arm to get high yep that’s a JUNKIE MOMMA. Call it what you want make yourself feel better JUNKIE is a JUNKIE. I don’t know if you call someone good that calls for help when you are some one you know needs the help or they will die. Gangbangers call for help all the time after they or someone they know has been shot. Good is when you do what’s right so your not in this situation. Good is helping others before they get in this situation. Good is not being a burden on society and carrying your own weight in life plus the others that truly can’t help themselves. With that being said the mother that left her kid in the car is a bad mother. The girl for saving her partner is a good drug junkie. The only way this young lady can change is to start a reborn life with new friends maybe family who knows. Glad the mom could borrow the money to get attorney. GOOD is the taxes payers that work that will get stuck with all the bills for medical and judicial costs. So to all those involved YOU ARE WELCOME.

  • Deem October 4, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    I like how you said it LADYBUGAVENGER “no more heroin Chelsea!” I hope they have both learned from this tragic event. I do feel the Washington County Deputy Attorney did the right thing for the right reason in stating, “they would rather have people call 911 than be afraid of going to jail.”

  • DAVE RABBITT October 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

    This bill provides that a person who reports a person’s overdose from a controlled substance or other substance MAY CLAIM AN AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE to specified charges of violating the Utah Controlled Substances Act if the person remains with the person who is subject to the overdose and cooperates with responding medical providers and law enforcement officers; and provides that remaining with a person subject to an overdose and cooperating with medical providers and law enforcement IS A MITIGATING FACTOR WHEN DETERMINING THE PENALTY for a related violation of the Utah Controlled Substances Act.

    AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE:
    An affirmative defense to a civil lawsuit or criminal charge is a fact or set of facts other than those alleged by the plaintiff or prosecutor which, if proven by the defendant, defeats or mitigates the legal consequences of the defendant’s otherwise unlawful conduct.

    DEFEATS….. “OR” …… MITIGATES

    MITIGATING FACTOR:
    Mitigate: make less severe, serious, or painful. (ALSO)lessen the gravity of (an offense or mistake)
    Factor: one of the elements contributing to a particular result or situation.
    Penalty: a punishment imposed for breaking a law, rule, or contract

    NOWHERE, IN THE OVERDOSE REPORTING AMENDMENT, DOES IT STATE THAT IT GRANTS THE CALLER IMMUNITY!

    As respectfully as I possibly can at this point, all I can say is
    1.) People need to learn to read.
    2.) People need to learn how to comprehend what it is, that you’re reading.
    3.) People need to STOP taking or twisting what you’ve read “out-of-context”.

    • ladybugavenger October 5, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      What’s the affirmitave defense to leaving a baby to boil in a hot car? Oh yeah, she was out of her normal routine….my point, the law can be interpreted and twisted as needed, good or bad. Sad but true, so in general the law is subjective.

      • that guy October 6, 2014 at 2:41 am

        Subjective eh? Kinda like applying pesticides in a persons house with out a commercial pesticide applicator licence or a business licence. Eh it is all good as long as you don’t get caught right?

        • ladybugavenger October 6, 2014 at 9:42 am

          I was actually talking about after a person is caught.so no, its not right, even if they dont get caught. your talking about someone’s morals and getting away with something, the pesticide thing sounds hazardous

  • ladybugavenger October 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

    But I’ll give you an example of not getting caught. Like when I went to st George police and reported my son being on meth and a pregnant girl he hung out with on meth and his location of where the meth is coming from and his license plate number ( becuz he was the driver for the dealer) and st George police officer looked at me as if I was a crazy mother for going to the police and told me some people like to live like that and they let him continue his ways with no punishment. Then my son, quickly to look at me like I’m crazy and continue to believe hes too good to get caught… got deeper.into meth and eventually got caught in Vegas for.meth and stealing a car. Talk about being subjective before you get caught. I guess it applies here too….no thanks to st George police for allowing my son to continue delivering drugs without recourse. I gave them address and license plate. No thanks to st George police to looking at me as being a crazy mom, as if I’m the criminal and letting him get away with delivering meth to others without one ounce of punishment!

  • sagemoon October 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    It’s good to hear the law worked in Chelsea’s favor. I’m disappointed that it’s only a defense and not a reason to prevent a caller from getting booked into jail. Saving lives is more important!!!

  • Says what October 6, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Dear mrs. Lady bug you need to take action yourself, this could have been prevented if you had chosen an abortion years ago. I’m sure you realized the was a bad egg from the beginning. You have always believed in freedom of choice so your choice should had been abort from the start. Please join our cause and support MAFTS mothers abort from the start. We are on line.

  • ladybugavenger October 6, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    If your momma took that action against you, you wouldn’t be here. shame on you!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.