The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 10th

Orange County Sheriff's Life Track program protects cognitively impaired people

Cathy Holsey vividly remembers when her 11-year-old autistic son, Stephen, wandered off a trail in a local park in 2010.

She said she recalls the panic she felt as police and fire departments scoured the grounds and helicopters surveyed from the skies to find her missing son.

Fortunately, her son was found four hours later near the edge of the park. But Holsey and her husband said they knew they needed a solution should he ever wander again.

And nearly four years later, all she needs to find her son is the trace of a signal.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Life Track program is a rapid-paced tracking machine that allows officers to quickly locate people with autism, Alzheimer’s or dementia. Pam Tillett , who runs support groups at the Orange County Department on Aging, said she has seen firsthand the positive impact Project Life Track has had.

“I’ve had a wife come to my group whose husband was lost and then found through the program, and she was just so relieved,” she said. “That was great to see.”

Holsey said the sheriff’s office approached her about using the Life Track technology following Stephen’s mishap, and she said the program was an answer she had been searching for.

“We had been looking for something similar when we lived in Oregon, and were so happy when we found it here,” she said.

Orange County’s Sgt. Butch Clark , who has been involved with the program since its founding, said the system operates off a simple FM signal.

“We put a bracelet on them that has the transmitter inside it, which is how we pick up the FM signal,” he said. “Our receivers pick up on that signal, so when they wander off we can go out and pick up exactly where they are.”

Since the program’s birth, it has been used only twice — once when a local man walked away from a senior day care and once when an 87-year-old wandered from her house.

“Stephen is 15 now, and, while he has gained a lot of confidence, that doesn’t necessarily mean his decision making is where it needs to be,” Holsey said.

It costs around $300 to fix each user with a transmitter, Clark said.

“We pay for the cost of it entirely through the help of fundraisers, civic organizations and private donations,” he said.

For Holsey, the cost of her son’s well-being is priceless.

“We hope we won’t have to use the program. But we are so thankful for the tremendous care the sheriff’s department and the entire community has shown in keeping our son safe.”


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