America’s Worst Samaritan: Ohio Man Films Dying Teens

Paul Pelton didn’t pull the victims out of their burning car but instead filmed their last moments, allegedly hoping to sell the footage to TV news.

07.16.15 5:27 PM ET

When an Ohio man saw a deadly crash, he didn’t rush to aid the teenagers inside— instead, he whipped out his cellphone to capture the nightmarish aftermath, and then tried to hawk the footage to local TV, police say.

Now the coldblooded cameraman, Paul Pelton, is facing criminal charges, authorities say.

The collision occurred at 12:45 a.m. Monday in the city of Lorain, when a 17-year-old lost control of his car after speeding over railroad tracks. The vehicle, which had another young passenger inside, slammed into a house, an SUV and a tree.

Seconds later, police say, Pelton was recording the horrific scene and repeatedly called the boys “idiots” on camera. Then he opened the vehicle’s back door to get video of the interior, authorities charge.

Pelton went to the window side to film the driver, Zachary Goodin, and allegedly kept his cellphone cam rolling even as the car caught fire. As the 41-year-old played videographer, neighbors worked to pull Goodin out of the burning vehicle.

Goodin’s passenger, Cameron Friend, 17, was unconscious and later died at the hospital, police say. Pelton had likely captured some of the boy’s final moments.

The Lorain Police Department says it learned that Pelton posted the video on Facebook and tried to sell the footage to several news organizations. On Wednesday, officers arrested him on charges of vehicle trespass, a misdemeanor.

“I just wanted to educate people to slow down,” Pelton told ABC 5 in Cleveland. “I didn’t do that to have some type of gore video.”

Still, authorities say Pelton wasn’t making a public service announcement, and he never offered help to the victims. Rather, they claim Pelton was trying to make a buck off a horrifying emergency.

“In this day and age, everybody’s videotaping everything,” Sergeant Buddy Sivert told The Daily Beast. “There’s a place and time to capture things on video … but this guy went into the crime scene for his own purposes.”

“Videotaping a dying kid and posting it is not the proper thing to do,” Sivert added.

The incident is eerily similar to the plot in Nightcrawler, where Jake Gyllenhaal plays a thief-turned-cameraman who shows up to crime scenes and eventually becomes more participant than observer. In the film, Gyllenhaal’s character sold footage to a local TV station.

Denise White, a neighbor who tried to help the boys, watched in horror as Pelton held a cellphone to the car.

“To take that video and put it on Facebook, it just shows you have no principles,” White told Fox 19 in Cincinnati. “It’s disgusting. That guy’s mom probably had to see that. It made us relive it.”

In a Facebook post, the Lorain Police Department reminded people they are permitted and encouraged to help others during emergencies.

“Persons are not, however, allowed to trespass into a person’s vehicle criminally and without permission for the seemingly singular cause of filming, a young man’s dying moments, for profit,” Captain Roger Watkins wrote.

Pelton reportedly published an apology video on Facebook amid a local uproar over his footage, according to Fox 19. He also said he never intended to profit off the video, but simply asked for a donation to charity.

“I want to offer a public apology to the families of the kids that got injured or deceased in the car accident,” Pelton said. “I never intended it to be a video that came across as a gore video. I wanted to put the video out there so other kids could see it and learn from the mistake of speeding and driving recklessly.”