Program helps find missing loved ones

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, October 1, 2008

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP — Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy Julia Jones can remember one night last winter when an elderly Willow Wood woman suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease walked out of her house and into her family’s worst nightmare.

“She got out at night, in the winter and she was wearing nothing but her nightgown,” Jones recalled. “And she was missing quite a while before she was found.”

Now, the sheriff’s office has a device to help find lost loved ones. This week eight deputies are taking a three-day course to learn the basics of Project Lifesaver. Alzheimer’s patients, autistic children or other such participants in the program wear a personalized bracelet that emits a tracking signal. When the family member or caregiver notifies the local agency that the person is missing, a search and rescue team responds to the wanderer’s area and starts searching with the mobile locater tracking system.

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“This tool is a great way to locate someone who has special needs and gets lost,” Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff Lawless said. “And it gives peace of mind to their family as well.”

Project Lifesaver cuts down the search time from what can be hours or even days to usually under 30 minutes. Deputies scattered through the woods at Lake Vesuvius Tuesday and searched for a hidden bracelet as part of their training exercises.

“We started out a mile away and found it in 10 minutes,” Deputy Ray Jones said.

“For people in need, this is a great program,” Deputy Brian Chaffins said.

The tracking systems have a one-mile range on land, eight miles by air.

The Lawrence County taxpayer will also get some peace of mind from this program: Lawless said $7,680 in donations paid his office’s cost of taking part. Each bracelet costs $300. The sheriff’s office has three of them and Lawless hopes more donations can be secured to help defray the cost of purchasing more bracelets.

“We want people to know the sheriff’s office is doing everything it can to serve the citizens of Lawrence County,” Lawless said. Those interested in obtaining a bracelet or making a donation may contact Lawless or Sheriff Tim Sexton at 532-3525.

Two members of the Ross County Sheriff’s Office are conducting this week’s classes. Lt. Dale Gillette said in his area, Project Lifesaver is becoming useful in finding autistic children who get lost.

“It definitely works for the child who bolts and runs,” Gillette said.

Started in Virginia in 1999, Project Lifesaver has now expanded nationwide. Forty law enforcement agencies in Ohio are now members.

The deputies who are taking training this week will in turn become trainers and educate the rest of the sheriff’s office staff.