TALLAHASSEE — Surrounded Wednesday by the governor and top state law enforcement officials, Mary Lallucci of Belleair realized her mother's death meant something.
"This is her legacy, and it will save lives," she said.
Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order creating a statewide "Silver Alert" program to notify motorists about senior citizens with Alzheimer's or dementia who drive off.
In February, Lallucci's 86-year-old mother, Mary Zelter, left an assisted living home in Largo. Her car was found a week later in the water near Clearwater Beach.
The new program, already under way in Pinellas County, allows the broadcast of information about missing drivers, much in the way that Amber Alerts notify drivers about missing children.
"In a missing person situation, getting the word out, and getting it out quick, is key to a swift and safe recovery," said Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
An alert will be issued if a person is 60 or older and there is a clear indication he or she has an "irreversible deterioration of intellectual faculties," according to the program guidelines.
It can also be used for people age 18 to 59 with the same problems and law enforcement determines that the person lacks the capacity to consent.
More than 4.3-million Floridians are 60 or older, and about 501,000 are probable Alzheimer's cases, according to the Governor's Office. "We have a duty to honor them with our utmost respect and dignity," Crist said.
Eight states currently have a Silver Alert program, and soon there could be more. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, sponsored a bill that passed the House last month that would allocate $5-million from 2009 to 2013 to implement the system nationwide.