TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and Mercer County Sheriff Kevin Larkin today re-introduced the County's Project Lifesaver tracking program in order to make the public aware of its lifesaving potential in the wake of a recent tragedy.
Hughes said Project Lifesaver, while in its third year, must gain greater attention in light of the case of Gordon Hector, an 81-year-old Hamilton man who had Alzheimer's disease and who, three weeks ago, became disoriented and went missing. Despite a massive search effort by 10 area police departments and by Hector's family, Gordon Hector died before rescuers could locate him.
"The Hector family's ordeal was tragic and heartbreaking, but now their father's legacy will be bringing attention to Project Lifesaver," said Hughes, speaking at a press conference at the Mercer County Sheriff's Office in Trenton. "Our hope is that many families who have a loved one living with Alzheimer's or other diseases that can cause wandering will let us help them."
Project Lifesaver is a program that outfits eligible residents suffering from Alzheimer's disease or other illnesses that may cause wandering, such as autism, with tracking bracelets. The lightweight, watch-like bracelets transmit a signal to a radio receiver that can be activated in the event that a person becomes lost.
Larkin said the program, which is funded exclusively with forfeiture money through his office, has a 100 percent success rate in the dozen searches conducted so far. Last year, an elderly woman wearing one of the bracelets was located unharmed within minutes, Larkin said.
"I can absolutely guarantee that the loss of Mr. Hector will mean many, many lives saved in the years to come," Larkin said. "We are here not only to fight crime but to protect people and save lives."
Hector's son, Chuck Hector, also appeared at the press conference Friday along with Frank DiDonato Jr., to support Project Lifesaver. Just two weeks ago, Frank DiDonato Sr., a 79-year-old Ewing resident who also suffers from Alzheimer's, became disoriented and drove to Queens, N.Y. DiDonato was found safe and has since been outfitted with a Project Lifesaver bracelet. DiDonato Jr., his son, attended the news conference to show his support for the bracelet.
Chuck Hector said it is vital that word of the program reach Mercer County residents, saying many of them may not be aware of the affects a disease like Alzheimer's can have on their loved one. He said he believed his father would be alive had he been wearing a Project Lifesaver bracelet.
Mercer County Sheriff's Officer Ed DiNatale, who heads Project Lifesaver, said the program is cost effective. About $250,000 was expended in the search for Gordon Hector, a sum that would have purchased a bracelet and battery pack for every resident who needed one in Mercer County, DiNatale said.
The bracelets use radio frequencies, not GPS signals, which can fail on cloudy or stormy days. Once the Sheriff's Office is contacted, a specially trained sheriff's officer determines whether the resident is eligible for a bracelet based on certain medical criteria, such as degree of memory loss. The bracelet's signal can be picked up for up to one mile on the ground, 5-7 miles in the air, and 12 square miles by car, Sheriff's Officers said.
Mercer County is one of the only counties in the state that offers the Project Lifesaver program free of charge. For more information or to make an appointment, call the Mercer County Sheriff's Office at (609) 989-6111 and ask for Project Lifesaver.