I'd Call Mary-Kate Olsen First, Too


The gutter press is desperate to turn Heath Ledger’s death into a sex scandal rather than a mere sad accident.

Thus, the gossip writers remind us again and again that Diana Lee Wolozin — the masseuse who found Mr. Ledger’s body — used Ledger’s cell phone to call his friend Mary-Kate Olsen several times before she called 911.

The implication of this — the UK’s Telegraph tells us in so many words — is supposed to be that if only Ms. Wolozin had not “wasted time” calling the former infant star of Full House instead of 911, then Mr. Ledger might still be alive.

But even if she had dialed 911 first and paramedics had come immediately, that would be a dubious allegation. Mr. Ledger is estimated to have died some twenty minutes before his masseuse arrived — so the chances of him being revived were slim indeed.

In any event, Ms. Wolozin may have had sound reasons to call Ms. Olsen rather than 911, thanks to government policies that tend to discourage anyone from calling 911.

For one, there’s the fact that calling 911 doesn’t necessarily bring the fastest results — and doesn’t guarantee any results.

As Richard W. Stevens’s book Dial 911 and Die illustrates with example after example, countless people have been killed by violent criminals because they relied on 911 instead of taking matters into their own hands with a firearm.

When you dial 911, police and paramedics are free to ignore your pleas. If they dawdle or choose not to come at all, they won’t be held liable. California’s Supreme Court has said so in as many words, as have other courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that you have no individual right to police protection (let alone help from the paramedics) even though you pay taxes and even though protection of your life is the main theoretical justification for government’s existence.

When Ms. Olsen received the masseuse’s call, she immediately sent her own private security team to Ledger’s apartment. Press accounts leave the precise timeline murky, but there is no question that Ms. Olsen’s private team arrived on the scene at least as soon as, and maybe even before, the 911-dispatched team. Unfortunately, Mr. Ledger died anyway — but this still illustrates that the choice to call for private help first wasn’t unreasonable.

Another reason why Ms. Wolozin may have been reluctant to call 911 is because that would necessarily involve a surrender of her client’s privacy, an issue about which celebrities like Mr. Ledger are understandably highly sensitive. Calling 911 makes the details of your emergency — possibly every word you say in an extremely stressful situation — a public record, subject to endless radio and TV broadcasts. Reports say Ms. Wolozin thought Mr. Ledger was unconscious, not dead — so it’s quite reasonable that she wouldn’t have wanted him to come to and find himself embroiled in a tabloid scandal thanks to her 911-tape blabbing.

People also might not be eager to call 911 because it may cause them to be prosecuted for some victimless crime.

For example, Mr. Ledger’s bedroom apparently was strewn with various pills. We still don’t know (and I don’t much care) why Mr. Ledger had the pills. Ms. Wolozin likely didn’t know either. Under Supreme Court precedent, anything the authorities see in plain view in your house is subject to seizure without a warrant and can be used against you. So we can understand why many people who have an emergency related to illegal drugs would be reluctant to call for government help — and how needless death could result from this.

Incidentally, Ms. Wolozin allegedly was a victimless criminal, too: as the sharp legal minds at US magazine inform us, Ms. Wolozin apparently lacked a license to be a professional masseuse, which is a felony in New York. That is, of course, ridiculous. You don’t need such a license under California law, and amateur massage-giving runs rampant in California, New York, and everywhere else with few fatal results. New York’s law exists only to benefit established massage-givers at the expense of would-be competitors — and now gives Ms. Wolozin one more headache, thanks to US, which dutifully notified the authorities of her alleged infraction.

The gossip rags’ attempts to smear and destroy Ms. Wolozin because of her reaction under tragic circumstances are exceptionally unfair and mean-spirited, even by their already-low standards.

Moreover, the idea that calling 911 first is always the right answer is simple-minded and, in some situations, could prove deadly. This is not to say that you shouldn’t call 911 in a life-threatening emergency — but you can’t count on it to save you, either. And thanks to government’s ever-increasing intrusions on voluntary, victimless conduct, it might cause you even more problems than you had in the first place. So it’s best to be prepared to respond to emergencies in alternative ways, in addition to calling 911.

As for me, if I knew Mary-Kate Olsen and my life was on the line, I’d call her first, too.