In slippers, a father slips away
By THOMAS LAKE
Published March 13, 2007
HUDSON - Last Saturday morning at an assisted living facility off State Road 52, an elderly man shuffled to the front desk and announced he was going on vacation.
He was blind in one eye, wearing black slippers and walking with a cane. His bags were packed. He asked the receptionist to call him a cab, and she did.
Wilton Tyner is 86, a retired electrical engineer with a fading memory and a fondness for cards. He left Atria Baypoint Village just after 10:30 a.m. Saturday, hoping to catch a bus to North Carolina.
A few hours later, his daughter called the Sheriff's Office to report a missing endangered adult.
The ensuing search highlighted a question that millions in the boomer generation face as their parents reach their 80s: When does a grownup lose the right to roam?
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Jean Nelson, Tyner's daughter, told authorities he would probably head for a Greyhound station. A deputy checked the one in Holiday. It was closed. He asked dispatch to call Yellow Cab. A dispatcher tracked down the driver who had picked Tyner up. The driver said Tyner had been dropped off at the Gulf View Square in Port Richey. Deputies and security guards scoured the mall. Tyner was not there.
Nelson was angry that Baypoint had let her father leave. She worried he would turn up in a ditch. But Bayfront officials say they followed policy. "We're not a secure facility," executive director Susan Harris said. "People can come and go as they please."
Nelson says this is news to her. She has power of attorney and controls her father's bank account.
But Gregory Richards Jr., a Tampa attorney who has been doing guardianships for eight years, said that unless a judge ruled otherwise, someone in Tyner's position could still make his own decisions.
Nelson said her father is not mentally incompetent.
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Family members can still look for a relative who wanders off, and deputies can join the search if they suspect the person might be in danger.
Nelson's relatives showed his picture around the Greyhound station in Tampa. A deputy called cab companies and hospitals. No one remembered seeing him.
Finally, late Saturday afternoon, an officer from the Tampa Police Department sent a teletype saying he had found Tyner at the Tampa Greyhound station.
A Greyhound employee in Tampa had recognized Tyner from the photo. He was trying to find a bus to North Carolina.
The Tampa officer picked him up and handed him over to the Pasco deputy, who delivered him back to Baypoint.
Deputies might have been able to take him to a secure facility under the Baker Act, but they thought it best to take him home, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said.
Tyner's case differs from that of most seniors who are reported missing and endangered. Often they are found disoriented and miles off course.
Tyner had a plan and he stuck to it. He might have made it to North Carolina if he hadn't been stopped.
What if tries to go on another vacation?
The receptionist won't call a cab this time, Harris said. She'll call his daughter.
Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.