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For Silver Alert advocacy in Pinellas, two are honored

The night her mother disappeared, Mary Lallucci went online and searched "missing adults."

She discovered that several states had Silver Alert programs that helped locate lost seniors with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Before learning the whereabouts of her mom, she started talking to the media about the program.

In March 2008, Lallucci's 86-year-old mother, Mary Zelter, was found near Clearwater Beach, where she had driven her car into the water and drowned.

Two months later, when advocacy groups beckoned law enforcement leaders for a Silver Alert program, Largo police Chief Aradi volunteered to lead the charge.

The efforts of Lallucci and Aradi were integral to the implementation of local and statewide Silver Alert programs, said Sallie Parks, president of the Area Agency on Aging Pasco-Pinellas.

"Without the two of those people to take it on with passion," Parks said, "it wouldn't have happened."

For their work, Lallucci and Aradi were honored last month with the agency's Making a Difference Award.

As chairman of the Pinellas Police Standards Council, Aradi had the right resources at his fingertips, he said. The state attorney, sheriff and local police chiefs serve on the council.

Aradi joined forces with local leaders and advocates to create a pilot Silver Alert program based in Pinellas County. Lallucci, also a member of the team, became the spokesperson for the cause.

"My mother's story really impacted a lot of people and it called people to action," said Lallucci, 55, who lives in Belleair.

Meanwhile, state representatives announced plans to introduce a Silver Alert bill to the Florida Legislature.

But shortly after details of the pilot program were presented to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, it drew the attention of Gov. Charlie Crist. In October, he signed an executive order that created a statewide Silver Alert program.

"What we expected to be a yearlong process was fast-tracked," Aradi said.

The Silver Alert system broadcasts vehicle information on highway message signs when elderly people with cognitive problems drive off, much the way the Amber Alert system does for missing children. Other systems are in place for those who wander off by foot, Aradi said.

In rare cases, the alert also can be used for younger adults with cognitive impairments. Aradi said he insisted on incorporating that exception because even younger folks can end up in a similar predicaments.

A national Silver Alert bill that would establish a grant program to help states develop their own notification system awaits approval in the U.S. Senate. More than a dozen states have Silver Alert or similar programs.

Since the statewide program began in October, there have been 54 Silver Alerts issued in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's count last week. Almost all of the people were recovered. Five, regrettably, were found dead.

Lallucci said her involvement in the Silver Alert program and its success has helped her cope with the loss of her mother.

"Something great really did happen," Lallucci said, "because it got passed and people got saved."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

For Silver Alert advocacy in Pinellas, two are honored 03/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 8:06pm]
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