What Would You Do? Help a Publicly Intoxicated Person, or Let Them Go?
While at a local bar Saturday evening for a wonderful birthday celebration, a strange thing happened. A man, I’m guessing in his 60s, parked his bicycle outside and came into the bar. While I don’t think he was there for the birthday celebration, he seemed friendly enough and was soon sitting at the bar, chatting with people.
About an hour later, I was standing outside with a group of people from the party. That’s when I noticed the man who came in on his bicycle standing over his bike, wobbling and looking distraught and confused. He had locked his bike but had no clue what the combination to the bike lock was. He looked defeated. Thankfully, the man had anticipated this predicament and had told a party-goer his combination earlier. The party-goer relayed the code to me, I unlocked his bike and the man could go on his way.
That’s when I realized we have a problem. He’s not driving a car but he would be riding a bike. Obviously very inebriated, I couldn’t in good faith just turn him loose. He would have been a danger to the public and himself. He literally could barely stand and as he leaned on the bike to prop himself up, I held the bike firmly so he couldn’t take off. The man was polite and thankful for the help one minute, and rather belligerent and demanding that he should have his bike the next.
“Where do you live?” I asked him. “Just up the street,” he slurred. Others in the crowd encouraged me to just “let him go.” That crossed my mind but I also knew if I did this man wasn’t going to make it ten feet before he face-planted in the middle of the street. “Do you have ID on you that shows your address?” I asked. “Why are you doing this to me!?” was his response. “Sir, I’m just trying to help you,” I said. “You can’t ride your bike.” He pointed north. “I just live up the street!”
His level of intoxication seemed to be escalating. He could hardly stand. I wondered do I call the police? Maybe I should have. He was definitely publicly intoxicated. He also seemed like a nice man that maybe was just having a really bad day and overdid it. If I can get him home safely he can sleep it off and no one is hurt.
Again I asked for his ID. No luck. By now the crowd had thinned. I looked to my wife, one of the most caring people you’ll ever meet, and she said “I’ll go with you.” So I grabbed this stranger’s right hand with my left hand, pushed his bike with my right hand while my wife grabbed his other hand. We had to look pretty pathetic to the many cars that drove by staring at us but by this point we had one task at hand: get him home safely and as quickly as possible.
Small talk ensued. The man was a retired Navy veteran. We thanked him for his service. A young boy on a bicycle rode by. The man said “that’s my second son. I would do anything for that kid.” The boy wasn’t his son but the man thought of him as a “second son”. We walked by the man’s church. “I go to church there,” he said proudly. Ironically, a short wall outside the church looked like a good spot to take a rest because the man was breathing heavily and sweating profusely. “I have COPD,” he told us. Well, now what? Do we call an ambulance? The youngster on the bike rode by again. I’m pretty sure he was checking on his friend. “He’s OK,” I told the young boy. “Do you know where he lives?” I asked him. The boy said he did and rode his bike to the front of the man’s house, parking and pointing at the door. I was happy on one hand because I finally knew exactly where we were going. I was worried, however, because it was still another half a block away. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it.
One more rest and we’d be on our way. The man told my wife and me “you guys are getting pretty excited.” We laughed. “No, this isn’t exactly what we wanted to be doing right now,” I said, and we trudged on for the last half block of this most interesting journey.
The young boy stood firm at his spot, waiting patiently for us to finally get the man home. We reached the front steps and my wife knocked on the door. The door was ajar slightly and I could see he lived upstairs. Of course he lived upstairs. This was going to be interesting getting him up those steps. The man’s wife came down stairs. She looked a little shocked but not totally surprised. We explained to her what happened and handed the man off to her. I asked if she needed help getting him upstairs and she said no. The woman didn’t say a word except a quiet “thank you” as we started to leave.
My wife and I looked at each other and I said “well, that was interesting”. We both laughed and started heading back. A friend pulled up and gave us a ride back to the birthday celebration. I thanked the young boy for his help. Without him I honestly don’t know if we would have made it. The task seemed rather daunting until we knew for sure of a final destination.
I’ve replayed this incident several times in my head and wonder if I did the right thing. What would you have done? Let him go? Call the police? Call an ambulance? Let him pass out on the street?