Bringing missing, vulnerable adults home

By Erika Mahoney

December 27, 2013 Updated Dec 27, 2013 at 7:50 PM EDT

Norwich, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Two adults with dementia went missing in the Southern Tier during the last week of December.

Norwich Police Chief Joseph Angelino believes the cases are on the rise due to empire state's aging demographic.

While one of the cases ended tragically, a Norwich family is rejoicing after their loved one, Gary Powell, 73, was found alive.

On Christmas day, Powell headed out in his car, and didn't come home.

"It was scary, very scary," Mike Powell, Gary Powell's son, said.

The Norwich Police Department jumped on the case.

"Our mantra is we try to treat everybody like we would want our mother or father treated," Angelino said.

The department quickly gathered information from the Powell family.

"If you're starting to get worried about grandma or grandpa, have ready good photographs, know who their family doctor and dentist is, and if you're able to do it and can afford it, put a GPS on their car, Angelino said.

After the information was relayed to local police agencies, the Norwich department contacted the New York State Missing Person Clearinghouse. That department created a New York Alert, which ultimately helped find Powell.

The alert sends a missing person's information in all different directions, through text messages, emails, the media and on highway message boards.

In Powell's case, social media helped too.

A Facebook post by Norwich police got thousands of hits in just an hour.

"There was so much going on behind the scenes," Angelino said.

The department also utilized a mobile plate reader inside one of their vehicles. The tool, at a $26,000 price tag, reads license plates as the car drives by.

"It's going to alert you, whether it's a suspended vehicle or missing person," Police Officer Justin Carpenter said. "There's different alarms."

It ended up being a random driver, who saw the alert and then spotted the car; who called police and became a hero to Gary Powell's family.

A state trooper was able to get Powell to pull over off Interstate -81 in Broome County, bringing him to safety about 24 hours after he went missing.

It later turned out Powell got lost on his way home, and ended up driving to as far as Madison County accidentally, through the night and next afternoon.

"Chief Angelino and his staff are wonderful to work with, they kept me very well informed of what was going on. They got the alert out there, which ultimately, is what helped find him."

In addition to Angelino's tips on gathering important information for elderly family members, he also said it's important to take dementia warning signs seriously and get a license review if necessary.

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