Family of Madison man who went missing weighs in on Wisconsin's new Silver Alert law
MADISON (WKOW)-- July 16th was an especially hard day for Adrienne Nelsen. She and her husband Steve has been feeding birds outside their Nakoma Road home when she stepped inside for a minute. She came outside and couldn't find him. Most people might not worry right away. But Adrienne did. Steve has dementia.
The hunt for Stephen Nelsen lasted 30 hours and made the local news. And it coincided with the disappearance with another man, Guillermo DeVenecia of Fitchburg, who also has dementia. Both men were eventually found safe. Steve was found with the help of the Madison Police Department's K-9 unit and Mounted Patrol. We talked with both Steve and Adrienne exclusively about a new law that may have helped find him sooner. Silver Alert goes into effect in Wisconsin Friday.
"I think it's a good idea," Steve said about the new Silver Alert program. “You start wondering whether or not he's going to be found,” Adrienne explained.
The Alzheimer and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin’s Rob Gundermann worked directly with Governor Scott Walker on the legislation for Silver Alert. He said it is a first time in a long time that a bill has passed through unanimously and so quickly. Governor Walker signed the bill in April of this year and just a short 4 months later, the law is taking effect.
“Number one, I hope it saves lives and I'm convinced that it will, but I also think it will take a lot of the trauma in terms of when families go missing,“ Gundermann said.
The program, which was modeled after one in Florida, will make it much easier to find someone with dementia who has gone missing. An alert will be sent to all broadcasters across the state. The current program only notifies those who have subscribed. Alerts will also be posted on highway overpass signs and lottery number displays in case someone is suspected to be in a car.
Gundermann says the most likely place to find a person expected to be driving that has gone missing is at a gas station. Whether they need to use the bathroom or get gas, chances are they’ll have to stop. Not only can that allow a person to travel farther, but it can be a hazard to anyone on the road. “The last thing in the world you want is a confused person with dementia out on the roads,” Gundermann said.
In Steve’s case, he wasn’t in a car, but his family still says Silver Alert could have helped find him sooner. “But it's just one piece,” Adrienne explained. “Because it relies on somebody else seeing it and seeing the person who's missing so it's still not quite enough.”
Gundermann acknowledged that Silver Alert might not be able to save everyone who goes missing, but he said it is a huge step in the right direction. “No one deserves to die lost and alone and that's really what this bill, we believe, fix in many cases.”
The Nelsens said after Steve’s incident they’ve taken extra precautions. He’ll be issued a Care Tracker from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office that will track his whereabouts 24/7. For more information on resources to help those with dementia, including Silver Alert and Care Trackers contact the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin.
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