A Cautionary Ethics Tale From Texas

A Good Samaritan Teddy could relate to

In Texas, a 62-year-old man pulled over on the highway to help a couple whose truck had run out of gas. While he was assisting, the Good Samaritan apparently objected to the demeaning way the 31-year-old husband was addressing his wife, and said so. The husband then attacked the older man…who drew his concealed gun and shot him in the shoulder.


1. Stopping to help the couple was a generous and ethical act. As with any time one trusts strangers, it involved some level of risk. Still, it was the right thing for the older motorist to do, a pure Golden Rule decision.

2. When anyone sees someone being abused or mistreated, whether it is a stranger or not, he or she should register an objection, and if the abuse is egregious, intervene to the extent necessary to protect the abused. For example, my wife has confronted mothers who have physically assaulted small children in public. This is ethical conduct, and is a social and human obligation. It also involves risk (as my wife has discovered), since people who are abusive to those weaker than themselves often are disrespectful of others generally and prone to violence. The older man was correct to object to the husband’s verbal abuse of his wife.

3. Attacking a motorist who has stopped to help you for any reason is the mark of a jackass; attacking someone for insisting on courteous conduct toward others is the mark of a mega-super-jackass-jerkwad, with jimmies on top. This is not ethical conduct.

4. Defending oneself when one has been attacked by a man 30 years younger for nothing more than an appropriate reprimand is justified. Doing so with a licensed firearm, used in a non-lethal manner, may also be justified. Ethics has little to do with it.

5. The incident reeks of Moral Luck. The Good Samaritan did everything right, and yet the people he tried to help are worse off, and he may end up being charged with using excessive force. Nevertheless, he did the right thing, twice. The fact that it all spun out of control does not mean what he did was any less right. Bad luck turned a generous and ethical act into a fiasco.

Lesson: Doing the right thing doesn’t always result in desirable results, and proactive ethical conduct often has risks. This is, in part, what Theodore Roosevelt was referring to when suggested that those who would accomplish great things should “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Especially in Texas.

27 thoughts on “A Cautionary Ethics Tale From Texas

  1. Could you rephrase your last line? It sort of reads that the old man was shot in the shoulder. It doesn’t tell us who his and him is. The use of ellipses makes it read that the husband attacked the old man by pulling out his (husband) gun and shooting him (old man) in the shoulder.


    • What? The husband then attacked the older man…who drew his concealed gun and shot him in the shoulder. What’s unclear? The “who” clearly refers to the older man who was attacked—he obviously is the one who drew the gun. You think it says that he shot HIMSELF in the shoulder? I don’t think so. Then it would have read “shot himself in the shoulder.” “The killer attacked Fred, who drew his gun and shot him dead.” If this is confusing to you, you need to bone up on those “English as a second language” lesson. Or is this a Canadian thing?

      • Probably a Canadian thing, because I interpreted it to mean that the husband drew his own gun and shot the Good Samaritan in the shoulder as well. I think it is the general surprise of the last line that threw me off.

        • Well, I can’t explain that, because I know you can read. WHO follows its antecedent directly (see Patrice’s comment.). I’m not accountable for eccentric comprehension. I write a lot and read a lot—that is a clear sentence, and while I appreciate legitimate corrections, readers who think nit-picking or (in this case) claiming an error that isn’t there annoy me greatly. I’m sorry; I make plenty of real errors; I don’t need to be told about imaginary ones.

          • I think I just expected this to be a post about someone who acted like a Good Samaritan and then was somehow betrayed by the person he was trying to help (a la scorpion and the turtle). While this is in fact what happened, having the old man get shot fit into the narrative I was expecting better than having the old man shoot the younger one.

            • I was just thinking that…plus the fact that the dubious antecedent is all too common now, even in respectable publications. But I really hate it, and avoid it at all costs, which is why I was perhaps juuuuuuust a little snippy to Darryl when he suggested that it was normal to assume that the antecedent was misplaced, making my proper use ambiguous. But I can see how someone expecting the Good Samaritan to be the one shot would read the sentence that way—not because that’s what it says, but because it is expected, and the mind says, “There’s no way it can mean what it appears to mean.”

  2. I guess it is an American thing that they cannot read what is written in front of them.

    Let me make is simple for you.

    The husband attacked the old man…who pulled out his gun (husband) and shot him (old man) in the shoulder.

    The way it reads is how the husband attacked the old man. No where in my entire first post does it say anywhere that the old man shot himself (old man) in the shoulder. Please take reading lessons before insulting anyone else.

    • I’ll make this simple for you too: you can’t read. There is no way your interpretation is grammatical. I gladly accept corrections; I do not appreciate ridiculous and erroneous corrections. They waste my time.

  3. Thank you Eric. I believe that Jack likes to insult others instead of the possibility that he may be incorrect. I posted a clear and concise (maybe too consise for Jack) message and tried to make it polite. I only stated that the way it read may be confusing to others. I never told him that he was wrong.

  4. “The husband then attacked the older man…who drew his concealed gun and shot him in the shoulder.” The “who” in the dependent clause (“who drew his concealed gun and shot him in the shoulder”) will always refer back to the closest personal noun, in this case “the older man.” In no way could “who” refer to the subject of the sentence (“husband”). A dependent clause (the current one has already been quoted) must always modify its closest noun. Grammar is nothing more than a very logical verbal road map or flowchart. Not only did you not make it “simple,” you actually complicated something that’s pretty obvious. The only way in which Jack could have been referring to the husband’s gun (of course, we don’t even know if he HAD one), is if you (erroneously) presumed that the old man drew the husband’s “concealed gun” (if indeed he had one, which we, of course, don’t know) and shot the husband. Same result, though. Husband shot by older man. In no way do I think there is any possibility that this is a Canadian grammar deficit. It’s just a grammar deficit. The Canadian connection is merely coincidental.

  5. My father is a paranoid man who would never stop to help someone on the side of the road because of the infinitesimal chance he or she might be a Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. Especially here in Texas, “You never know who has a gun in their car.”

    After going out in the real world, I realized that yes, doing the right thing can backfire, but I’d sure hate to live in a world where everyone strolls right on past a person in need on the off chance that he or she could be a whackaloon.

  6. I wouldn’t worry too much about the Good Samaritan being charged. With the news story, the fact that DA’s are elected, and taking into account that this is Texas, no charges are going to be filed unless the shooter was way out of line. It is pretty unlikely that someone who stops to help someone by the side of the road is going to just shoot them for kicks. If the series of events happened as written, this is what Texans expect to happen in such an incident.

    Remember, Texas is one the few states that has self-defense by proxy.

  7. 62-31 = 40? Whaaaat?

    Typos aside, generally people who are assholes to their spouses are assholes to everyone else too. (Except their mistresses.)

  8. Really. All these comments about SYNTAX? It’s totally ridiculous. What about the message of the post?

    I wouldn’t stop to help someone with car trouble, because I would be afraid, these days, to do so. I would call 911 and report car trouble and where the car was located. If I happened to notice abusive behavior I would report that
    as well. (And I have: one 99 degree day in Northern Virginia some mother went into the CVS and left her three children, including an infant, IN THE CAR with the windows up. I went into the CVS, talked to the manager, and he called the police. I was not identified as the one who reported her, but the cops did come, took her away (against protests that she “could care for her children however [she] thought was best”), and watched Social Services come and take the children from her while she was taken away in a patrol car.

    I have been threatened by simply asking a woman not to park her car in the pick-up lane at the grocery store while she did all her shopping in the middle of a hard rainstorm. The “perpetrator” threatened to “slap me silly” and I simply told her I had given her tag number to the store manager, and dared her to touch me. That I would charge her with assault and battery and PUT HER in JAIL. She just drove off.

    This is our safe, civil world. There are ways to be a good citizen, and to help protect others — especially innocents — without putting oneself in danger. Why don’t we focus on those, instead of moronic exchanges about ANTECEDENTS, for God’s sake. The meaning was clear. You all have lost it, or need to go on Amazon and get an old copy of Strunk…

    • Syntax is serious business. Incidentally, The Elements of Style has come under some criticism lately. It seems that Mssrs. Strunk and White criticized certain methods of writing as being ungrammatical because they did not like them, not because they were actually ungrammatical. For example, the passive voice can be used by writers and it is okay to sometimes split infinitives.

      • That’s right, although E.B. White was a wonderful writer, and most would benefit from following his advice. And he knew that that when “who” follows a personal noun, it ALWAYS, ALWAYS refers to that noun…just as I wrote it.

        • No, not always. For example, if I wrote “While John was running to first base, Who tagged him out.”, Who refers to the first baseman, not to John.

          Yes, yes, okay, back to the regularly scheduled discussion about Good Samaritans, self-defence and protecting the vulnerable.

          • What????? First, that sentence isn’t in standard English! Second, “who” has NO antecedent…”first base” isn’t a personal noun. It may refer to John, but the sentence is wrongly constructed. It’s sentences like this—incorrect, ungrammatical sentences—that are the reason Darryl was confused. People are so used to reading pseudo-English like this that the real thing is incomprehensible.

            Alert me of site if you want that part of your comment deleted, so it won’t become a source of undying internet shame for you, your former teachers and future descendants.

            My God.

            • There is an Abbott and Costello routine where they are discussing the players on a baseball team. Unfortunately for Costello, the three players on first base, second base and third base are named Who, What and I Don’t Know respectively. This leads to comical confusion as Costello asks “Who’s on First?” and Abbott replies “Yes, Who’s on first.”, “I don’t know.”, “No, I Don’t Know’s on third.”, and the two men continue on in that vein. In my sentence, Who is the first baseman from Abbott and Costello’s team who tagged John.

              I agree with you about grammar. No need to invoke your deity. All this discussion about who “who” refers to just made me laugh a little. I figured as a baseball fan you would appreciate the humour.

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