Mary Lallucci was determined to turn her tragedy into a positive.
In February, Lallucci's 86-year-old mother, Mary Zelter, drove away from her Largo assisted-living facility. Her body and car were later found near Clearwater Beach, where she had driven her car into the water and drowned.
"Two hundred and forty-six days ago, my mother went missing," Lallucci told a crowd Tuesday in a Largo Police Department meeting room. "She was found eight days later, but we were too late.
"We lost my mother but today we won the Silver Alert. I know my mom is looking down and smiling on us, so proud of the remarkable results."
Lallucci immediately began to lobby local law enforcement officers and leaders to implement the Silver Alert system, which operates much like the Amber Alert system.
Tuesday, politicians, law enforcement agencies and those concerned with the care of the elderly convened at the Largo Police Department to announce the implementation of the new alert system that will help locate Alzheimer's patients or those with diminished cognitive ability.
"This is a great day for me and my husband," Lallucci said.
The Florida Silver Alert Enhancement program will send bulletins statewide when an elderly person goes missing while using a vehicle. The information will be posted with news agencies and placed on state highway message boards. Authorities say there is already a system in place for those who wander off by foot.
"It's going to save lives," said Sallie Parks, past president and board member of the Area Agency on Aging. "I don't know what life, but I guarantee you, it will save lives."
Parks said that the first 24 hours are crucial and the new system will help reduce the time it takes to get the word out that someone is missing.
The program began Tuesday in Pinellas County. On Oct. 8, Lallucci and Largo police Chief Lester Aradi will travel to Tallahassee, where Gov. Charlie Crist will sign an executive order that will expand the program statewide.
Because the system is closely aligned with the state's Amber Alert System, no additional resources are needed.
Aradi was the chair of the committee that helped pull the program together.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who attended the event, sponsored a bill that passed the House last month that would allocate $5-million from 2009 to 2013 to implement the system nationwide. Currently, eight states have the Silver Alert system.
U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who also attended the event, said there was an occasion when he could have used a Silver Alert system after his wife's father went missing.
"People never exposed to Alzheimer's or someone with dementia may not know the full importance of such a system," Young said. "But it would have helped us."
There are 501,480 people with Alzheimer's in the state and 34,334 in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.
"Clearwater has the highest number of residents 65 and over in the country," said Ed Hooper, the area's state representative and a former firefighter. "I can tell you for 20 years in my former line of work people would go missing and the result was usually never happy."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or [email protected]