90 Year-Old Survives Night in Truck
Five-Hour Search in Frigid Weather
The following appeared in the Herald of Randolph March 20, 2014. Gilbert Garriepy died Sept. 11, 2015 at Berlin Health and Rehabilitation in Barre, 1 1/2 years after he survived a cold night in a truck.
An intense five-hour search for a 90-year-old man ended on a positive note Monday at 12:30 p.m., when Gilbert Garriepy was discovered— chilled, but conscious—in the back seat of a truck parked in a driveway on Randolph’s Central Street.
Windover House, a Level III residential care home on Route 66, reported Garriepy missing at 7:15 a.m. on Monday, March 17. Garriepy had last been seen in his bed at 7:15 p.m. the prior night, the home’s owners told police. Garriepy, who may have been outside all night in sub-zero temperatures, was discovered by Central Street resident Earl Laplante, when he headed out early Monday afternoon to do some errands in town.
Laplante climbed into his four-door Nissan, started it up, and then was startled to hear “moaning” coming from the back seat. He turned around to see Garriepy, sitting up and wrapped in the blanket that Laplante always keeps in the truck.
Laplante said he left the engine running, went into the house, and told his fiancée, Patricia Hooker, “That man they are looking for is sitting in the back seat of the truck.” Hooker’s son, Harold Hooker, promptly drove to the search headquarters at the Randolph Village fire station, to let police know that Garriepy had been found.
Laplante returned to the truck to sit with the elderly man until police and the ambulance arrived. Garriepy made some sounds but was unable to respond to his questions, Laplante said.
Capt. Ray Keefe of the Vermont State Police, who directed the search and knows Garriepy’s family, went to the hospital with the elderly man. Garriepy, whose body temperature had dropped to a dangerously low 84°, was treated for hypothermia. Keefe said Garriepy remained “conscious and alert” at the hospital.
According to Keefe, Laplante’s “big wool blanket,” combined with the fact that his truck was parked in the sun, likely saved Garriepy’s life. When he was found, Garriepy was wearing only indoor clothing— a flannel shirt, pants, and shoes. Temperatures were well below zero Sunday night into Monday, and were still in the teens at midday.
No one knows for certain when Garriepy walked out of Windover House, but it may well have been Sunday night. One person told police during Monday’s search that he had seen “a gentleman shuffling down the road after 7 p.m.,” Capt. Keefe said.
Also, Laplante and Pat Hooker recalled on Tuesday that their dog had been “barking and barking” between 7-9 p.m. Sunday night. Laplante said he never went out to investigate.
“Most generally I lock the truck,” he said. “Good thing I forgot to.”
In his Monday morning release about the ongoing search, Keefe noted that Garriepy, who formerly lived with relatives in Bethel and suffers from dementia, “may be disoriented and trying to walk to Bethel to a local restaurant.”
He did head in that direction, but only got about a half-mile from Windover House.
Cpl. Paul Feeney and Tpr. Christopher Blais, of the Royalton barracks, both members of VSP’s Search and Rescue Unit, were two of the 35 or so people who spent about five hours searching for Garriepy.
At the fire station Monday afternoon, Cpl. Feeney said other troopers assisted; along with Game Wardens Keith Gallant and Stephen Majeski (and his dog), plus firefighters from the volunteer departments inHaroldRandolphAd:FrankenburgVillage, Randolph02/Cen-11/14 ter, and Bethel.
Cpl. Feeney said searchers combed the roadsides and went door-to-door in the area.
They likely walked right by Laplante’s truck, which has tinted windows.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol had mobilized a helicopter, but it arrived on scene just as Garriepy was found.
“We had lots of excellent cooperation,” Capt. Keefe summarized afterwards. “Everyone chipped in and did a great job.
“Now,” he added, “the family members have to decide where to go next with the situation.”
This is not the first time in Vermont that search teams have been mobilized to find an elderly person who has wondered off, he noted.
“We are dealing more and more with this as the population gets older and there is more and more dementia,” Keefe commented.
Level III Home
Don Jacobs, who runs Windover House with his wife Joyce, said Tuesday that Garriepy had lived there since September. It is unlikely that he will return to their facility, Jacobs said.
“When something like this happens, they (the families) have to find something more secure,” he stated.
He noted that the regulations for their Level III residential care home forbid them from locking doors. This level of care is not required to have “overnight, awake staff,” Jacobs said, adding that although they may use radio transmitter bracelets, “we prefer not to.”
According to the website for the Vermont Division of Licensing and Protection, Level III homes are “designed to meet the needs of people who cannot live independently and usually do not require the type of care provided in a nursing home.”
Jacobs noted that this was the first time in the home’s 25 years of operation that a resident had gone missing. He said that Garriepy hadprevioulsy wandered outside to the home’s parking lot a few times during 2:29thePMday,Pagebut had1 been brought back in.
Clayton Clark, director of the Division of Licensing and Protection in Williston, said Tuesday that Windover House had reported the incident, as required.
As a consequence of the incident, he said, the division would conduct an unannounced inspection of the home in the near future to determine if residents are receiving adequate supervision.
“It is my understanding that there have been five situations similar to this (elsewhere in the state) over the past year, but none of those cases for as long or in such hostile conditions,” he said.
Clark confirmed that the doors at residential care homes may not be locked.
“These types of facilities are not prisons,” he emphasized. “People are free to come and go, and it is up to the facility to make the best decision they can whether a person’s individual freedom is going to be a problem for their health.”
In Vermont, he said, those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
Clark noted that changes in a resident’s condition “may not always be readily apparent, and they make it harder to determine what appropriate level of care is.”