Great story Howard. Kudos to Detective Corona and Lt. Morales. I'm glad there was a happy ending.
The search for a potentially critical beep-beep-beep to help locate an Alzheimer's patient
Submitted by Howard Owens on August 23, 2013 - 9:47pm
If you saw Lt. David Morales walking down Main Street in Downtown Batavia this afternoon you might have wondered why a man in uniform with a badge and a gun was walking to-and-fro with a television antenna in his hand.
If you happened to be walking behind him as he searched for an elusive "beep, beep, beep," your mind might have flashed on an image of an old-time dowser plying a divining rod over sun-parched desert sands.
If you were David Morales, you might have felt like you were searching for a needle in a haystack.
Morales is a cop with the Veteran's Administration. At the VA hospital, Alzheimer's patients wear ankle bracelets that emit an AM-band radio signal so that if the patient wanders off, it might be easier for VA police to location the patient.
Each bracelet is coded with its own frequency. The device used by Morales today can be programmed to listen for the beeps on that specific frequency.
One difficulty is, other systems can emit tones on the same frequency.
"This device, as far as on the VA campus, is very useful," Morales said. "It's a big area and it's mostly wooded. Outside the base, in a city environment like this, we get a lot of interference. It can be from vehicles wtih powerful radios emanating strong signals. The police station, for example, that can have a strong signal for us, and as you know from walking with us, we hit on the Verizon building and we hit on one other location for whatever reason. Those are the handicaps we can run into."
Morales was called to the city today because a 78-year-old man from Livonia with advanced Alzheimer's Disease had gone missing. His wife told police the man was wearing an ankle bracelet that emitted the very kind of radio signal Morales is trained to track.
Because Det. Pat Corona had been in a training class on law enforcement response to events involving Alzheimer's patients with the local VA Police Chief Mike Messina, Corona knew the local VA had a receiver for AM-frequency tracking signals. It would have taken the Sheriff's Office in Livingston County an hour to get a receiver to Batavia PD, which Corona, from his training, knew could be a critical amount of time to wait.
"Finding people affected by Alzheimer's or dementia quickly is critical," Corona said. "It's not like a typical missing person. You have to bring all of your resources together quickly because history has shown that very quickly they get into a situation of distress. Typically they don't go very far. They try to get into a secluded area and secrete themselves so they can't be found. A lot of times they don't respond. If you call to them, they don't respond, so you have to act quickly."
The search for Robert Tutt started about 1:45 p.m. when his wife came into the police station and said her husband had gotten out of the car while she was stopped on Jackson Street at Main Street.
Tutt crossed Main Street and headed north, which is when his wife lost track of him.
Nearly all of Batavia's patrol units were dispatched to help search for Tutt along with troopers for the State Police and deputies from the Sheriff's Office. The State Police dispatched a helicopter to assist in the search.
Corona learned from Tutt's wife about the ankle bracelet and was able to find out the frequency set on the bracelet, so he called Messina at the VA to see if the VA could help.
Morales responded and the search started at Main and Jackson.
Almost immediately, Morales picked up some sort of signal, but it was indistinct and hard to pinpoint.
He let Corona listen through his headphones. They then entered City Centre, but the signal faded.
The two men then headed east on Main Street, with Morales making periodic stops to point the antenna this way or that and listen for the beep-beeps he hoped to hear.
The possible signal Morales thought might be lurking in the neighborhood led him and Corona down Center Street. It grew stronger, but it wasn't the clear beep-beep Morales wanted to hear.
At Jackson and School streets, Morales learned that Verizon has a building that straddles the block between Center and Jackson.
That explained the interference he was getting, he said.
After checking Jackson Square, which is a logical place where an Alzheimer's patient might try to hide, Corona and Morales headed north on Center over to Bank Street and down to Washington Avenue, where they turned left.
As they headed down Bank, a reporter asked Morales if the ankle bracelet has a battery and if it needs to be periodically charged.
Corona radioed to the police station and learned that Tutt's braclet was last charged on Monday, but without knowing the brand and make of the bracelet, Morales had no way of knowing if the battery could already be dead.
The battery's in the bracelets at the VA can keep a charge for two or three months -- they are serviced every 30 days.
After getting to State Street, Morales explained to Corona that they needed to head back in the other direction.
Because the radio signal carries only two miles, a search needs to be conducted in a grid fashion -- the search goes so far in one direction and then tries the opposite direction and then will head to the next grid space if no signal is found.
About this time, a reader of The Batavian -- which had posted information about the missing man at the request of Batavia PD -- reported seeing somebody who might have matched the description on Elmwood Avenue (near Kibbe Park). It didn't take long for Corona to learn it wasn't Robert Tutt.
When Morales and Corona reached Ross Street, Morales turned south. About halfway down the block he picked up a faint signal. He turned the antenna toward a large white house across the street. Corona noted that there was plenty of area behind St. Joe's that might attract an Alzheimer's patient looking for someplace to hide.
The men crossed the street.
In a side yard, Morales let Corona listen to the signal. The signal strength was 80 percent, Morales said, and was clearly coming from the house. He said it was probably a false signal.
Corona knocked on the door and a man answered and said he hasn't seen anybody matching Tutt's description. He checked a side door that could possibly be unlocked and leads to a vacant room and he also checked the garage door and a travel trailer that was unlocked, but Tutt wasn't there.
As Morales and Corona left the house, dispatchers informed Corona that Tutt had apparently been located at the Department of Social of Services office.
Without confirmation, the search for that all important beep-beep continued. Morales and Corona crossed Main Street and once they did, Corona was informed the man at DSS was indeed Tutt.
Tutt would be transported to the Batavia PD station. Corona learned, and Morales wanted to go there and confirm, that if they had gotten within a close enough distance to Tutt, the receiver would have worked.
At the station, Morales showed a reporter the signal he was picking up from Tutt's ankle bracelet. The signal was at 99-percent strength. If Tutt had stayed in the downtown area, he would have been located.
How Tutt made it all the way out to the DSS office on East Main Street isn't clear. Logically, it doesn't make much sense that he got there on his own without being spotted along the way.
"He can't help us with that," Corona said. "He has no idea how he arrived there. All security at the county building knows is he walked through the front doors.
It seems to be a long distance for him to have traveled on foot and not be seen, especially with everybody we had looking for him," Corona added. "It seems to me like logical place if somebody had contact with a disoriented person that it might be where they would take that person, but we don't know and he can't help us."
The only thing we know is that Tutt was reunited with his wife and after a brief discussion with police they continued on their way.
Top photo: Morales and Corona at Main and Jackson.
On Center Street
Between buildings on School Street, heading toward the Verizon building.
Checking an area that would be potentially attractive to an Alzheimer's patient.
In Jackson Square
Heading north on Bank Street
In front of a house on Ross Street that was emitting a matching signal.
Morales let's Corona listen to the signal he was hearing.
Near the end of the search -- Tutt was already potentially located at DSS -- Morales and Corona prepare to cross Main Street. If Tutt hadn't been located by this point, Corona was going to set up a command center at the police station and Morales would widen the area of the grid search by vehicle.