The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 27, 2014

Neighbor says he tried to assist victim during attack

Justin Dennis
jdennis@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — When dangerous situations arise, a behavioral phenomenon called the “bystander effect” is all too common. It occurs when nearby witnesses expect others to act or intervene. As a result, no one renders assistance.

But when 56-year-old Robert Williams of Hornerstown was attacked by two dogs police claimed were pit bulls on the night of April 18, Pine Street resident Yusuf “Smiley Bush” Harris claimed he was not a bystander, although Williams told The Tribune-Democrat differently.

Williams said Harris retreated into his house after seeing the dogs. Harris contacted The Tribune-Democrat to set the story straight.

“If I would have did that, I don’t think that man would have survived,” he told The Tribune-Democrat in a phone interview Friday. He said he went back inside to grab a broom to strike the dogs that were attacking Williams.

Harris also said he was the one to phone police.

“I ran into the house and got my broom and kept hitting the dogs – trying to get them off the gentleman,” he said.

“When I was hitting the dogs, they were trying to get to his throat.”

Johnstown police Sgt. Patrick Goggin told The Tribune-Democrat that two neighbors came to Williams’ aid that night, one with a broom. Harris said he counted at least three others who ran to help stop the mauling. That allowed Williams a chance to fall back to Harris’ porch, he said.

He said Williams seemed to be in shock after the attack and he might be misremembering details.

“I never left (Williams),” Harris said. “He maybe didn’t know, but I never left him. How can you leave a situation like that once you see it?”

Another neighbor eventually shot and wounded one of the dogs when it left Harris alone and charged him instead, something that left the man “shaken up,” Harris said.

Another dog was shot and killed by a police officer.

The dogs are owned by Harris’ cousin, he said, but, given the situation, all involved did what they had to do.

“The truth of it is the man was chewed up. It wasn’t right for nobody to be (mauled like that),” he said. “It was a bad situation, but you gotta protect your family and your life.”