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Missing Man, 90, Safe in Randolph

Gilbert Garriepy

Gilbert Garriepy

Randolph — When Earl LaPlante hopped into the driver’s seat of his pick-up truck shortly before noon on Monday with the intention of running an errand, he was more than a little surprised to hear moans coming from the backseat.

LaPlante turned around and spotted 90-year-old Gilbert Garriepy curled up under a wool blanket.

“I generally lock it up, but for some reason I didn’t last night,” said LaPlante of his truck.

LaPlante’s surprising discovery in his driveway on Central Street was a fortunate turn of events that brought a five-hour ordeal to an end, and likely averted a tragedy.

Wearing little more than a flannel shirt and slacks, Garriepy, who suffers from dementia, had wandered away from the nearby Windover House assisted-living facility sometime after sunset on Sunday night, and search crews, including state troopers, Fish and Wildlife personnel and fire department volunteers from Randolph and Bethel, had been scouring the area for him since shortly after 7 a.m.

Authorities are uncertain how long Garriepy had taken shelter in the truck before he was discovered by LaPlante, who lives about a half-mile from Windover House on Route 66. Overnight lows in the area were below zero, and temperatures throughout the morning remained in the teens. At its height, about three dozen people were involved in Monday’s search.

“It was definitely a high priority search given the cold weather (Sunday) night,” said Neil Van Dyke, search and rescue coordinator for the state’s Department of Public Safety.

Upon finding his stowaway, LaPlante, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he contacted authorities and then turned on the vehicle, cranked up the heat and spoke encouragingly to Garriepy until help arrived.

“I feel sorry for people like that who can’t help themselves,” LaPlante said in an interview Monday.

By the time rescue crews arrived at the scene about 12:30 p.m., Garriepy’s body temperature was a dangerously low 84 degrees, Vermont State Police Capt. Ray Keefe said. That temperature is considered moderate hypothermia. At 82 degrees, severe hypothermia, which is potentially fatal, sets in.

Garriepy was “coherent and alert, but not able to form any words as he normally is,” said Keefe. “It’s wonderful we found him when did.”

Garriepy disappeared sometime between 7:15 p.m. on Sunday night and 7:18 a.m. Monday morning, according to police. The operation began after staff at Windover House noticed his absence during morning rounds and called authorities, said Jacobs.

Since Garriepy was assumed to be on foot, searchers canvassed the immediate area, peering inside homes and garages. They knocked on doors to show Garriepy’s photo to residents.

In fact, searchers likely walked right past the spot where Garriepy was found when they knocked on LaPlante’s door earlier Monday morning.

Windover House owner Joyce Jacobs breathed a sigh of relief Monday afternoon upon hearing that her resident had been found.

“Isn’t that wonderful!” she said. “He’s tough.”

Garriepy had developed dementia only recently, said his son-in-law Scott Mills, of Bethel.

Though he previously had wandered out of Windover House, Garriepy had not ventured out at night, Jacobs said.

State regulations required Windover House to report the incident to the state, which it did on Monday, said Frances Keeler, director of the State Survey Agency, which regulates nursing home facilities.

The last time Keeler’s agency reviewed Windover House was in June 2012. At that time, the facility was found to be out of compliance with state regulations on two fronts, a failure to document which staff members had completed required trainings and a failure to conduct fire drills during overnight hours. The state subsequently accepted the Windover’s plans of correction, said Keeler.

The agency receives reports of disappearances such as Garriepy’s fewer than five times per year, said Keeler.

As a result of Monday’s events, Windover House will receive an unannounced visit from the state in the near term, said Keeler. The surveyor will examine whether residents are receiving proper supervision, she added.

Unlike nursing homes, assisted-living facilities such as Windover House are not secure and residents generally are allowed to go outdoors, Keeler said, but care providers are expected to take action to address individual needs.

Providers “should have an understanding of what individual capabilities are,” she said.

Keefe, of the State Police, said he did not fault Windover staff for Garriepy’s disappearance and described the home as a “great place with a great reputation.”

Later Monday afternoon, Mills, the son-in-law, said Garriepy was receiving warm intravenous fluids and “doing well in the hospital.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.