Urban Legends and Knowing What to Do in a Crisis

Your Kmareka correspondent is one of the few with the courage to say it out loud. I hate Christmas. I would gladly skip the whole thing for adults. Children should not be cheated out of their presents and Christmas joy of course, but let’s buy them some toys and the rest of us have cocktail parties and eat samosas. There, I’ve said it.

But as Scroogy as I am, I don’t totally buy into the flip side of American Christmas –bemoaning our greed and materialism. Although this story is true, I sense a touch of the Urban Legend…

Family and friends were stunned by the loss of a West Virginia man who died while shopping on Black Friday as fellow bargain hunters reportedly walked around — and even over — the man’s body.

Family members told WSAZ-TV that 61-year-old Walter Vance of Logan County, W. Va., had become ill and collapsed while shopping for Christmas decorations inside Target in South Charleston. He later died after being taken to the hospital, family said.

Witnesses told the NBC News affiliate in Charleston, W. Wa., that shoppers walked around and even over Vance’s body.

It’s a fact of human nature, and cause for much anguish after the fact, that we tend not to understand or deal well with the unexpected. I have witnessed people collapsing in public, only to be surrounded by concerned bystanders within seconds. The crucial requirement is that the bystanders recognize a crisis and have a script for how to respond. Mr. Vance had the misfortune to have an emergency out of context. I think that most of the crowd of deranged Christmas shoppers simply did not recognize what they were seeing. But Mr. Vance was helped by some people who knew what to do…

An E.R. nurse who also happened to be shopping at the store tried to administer CPR. She and an off-duty paramedic tried to help Vance while he was on the floor.

I’ll be the first to say, ‘Bah, humbug’ to Black Friday. But I think the tragic demise of Walter Vance was more a stroke of fate than an American morality tale.