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Project Lifesaver brings missing man home

Technology helps track "at risk" people who go missing
Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 8:20 PM EST
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COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Ernie Meadows lives on a 24-acre farm in Tabor City with his wife and daughter, but he suffers from dementia, and he’s a long way from what used to be his home in West Virginia. He wanders off every once in a while, thinking that he’s headed back home.

“So, I come in here and he sat down here and put his shoes and socks on and then he put his coat on and I asked him where is it he’s going,” Ernie’s wife Wilma said. “He said ‘I don’t know but I wanna cup of coffee to take with me.’ So I walked in here, got the cup, turned around and he was gone. He was out that door, gone. And he can’t walk that fast, but he got away from me in that fog.”

It was around 2 o’clock Monday morning when Ernie left home. Wilma grabbed a flashlight but the fog was too thick to see where Ernie might have gone off to, so she immediately called the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is the third time they’ve had to come out and help me find him,” Wilma said.

When Wilma and Ernie moved to Columbus County just over a year ago they immediately got Ernie a Project Lifesaver wristband from the Sheriff’s Office. The wristband is free of charge for anyone with a cognitive disorder like dementia.

“We promised him we would not put him in a nursing home, he would stay at home as long as we could do it. I’ve fought for seven years now to keep him at home, so we’re going to continue,” Wilma said. “But this program really allows me to do that even more.”

The wristband is like a tracking device — it has a transmitter that connects to a radar from the Sheriff’s Office through radio frequency waves.

“Once you wander off, especially in a wooded area, in a rural county like it is, it’s a great tool to be able to find him. A lot of things could happen in a few minutes, so it makes the search effort really fast and efficient,” said Lt. Nick High with CCSO.

Because the wristband is waterproof, it can be worn 24/7 so families like the Meadows have some peace of mind.

“I’m glad everything worked out the other night as fast as it did. It could’ve been worse,” Lt. High said. “Good thing it was only about 50 degrees and we’re kind of in a drought right now. He was found in a ditch, so that could’ve played a role in it. It could’ve been worse.”

“At least twice it’s saved his life. I couldn’t have asked for anything better in my life,” Wilma said. “This program has been a Godsend for us.”

Project Lifesaver is available for anyone in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover or Pender counties that has a cognitive disorder.

For more information about Project Lifesaver, click here.

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