Missing Haines City woman found in Polk County after encounters in Largo, Tampa

She left her home near Haines City about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Told her husband she was going to pick up a job application at a Bob Evans restaurant over by the interstate, about 14 miles away.

Anner Black Murray, 58, didn't come home that night.

Or the next.

Nearly two days later — after she stopped at a Pizza Hut and BP convenience mart, talked to police in at least two cities, ran out of gas, slept who knows where and drove her tan Chevy pickup halfway across the Florida peninsula — Murray was found about 7:15 a.m. Thursday.

She was at a Perkins restaurant off Interstate 4, less than a mile from the Bob Evans she never did find. The police said she suffers from dementia, but she tells a different story.

"I wasn't missing," said Murray, back at home Thursday morning. "I just missed my turn."

• • •

Even in a state where it is all too common for seniors to become confused and wander off, sometimes with tragic results, the story of Murray's journey is eye-opening.

She and her husband, Roy, live in a tiny town called Lake Hamilton. She drives mostly local roads through Polk County. "Interstates are hard," she said.

But these days, she said, you have to get out of town to find a job. She had heard there was work out there by the interstate.

Through her driver's side window, she saw the Bob Evans. "But it was on the left-hand side, and I couldn't make that turn in time," Murray said. "So I went up and came back to make that turn, but it was a long way to get back to where I was going."

It sure was.

She had $20 and her driver's license. No cell phone. No credit cards. She ran out of gas somewhere around Lutz, she thinks. She's not sure. She spent the night in her pickup. But she didn't sleep much.

"Then I met this nice lady at the Pizza Hut. I think her name was Nancy. She had a friend give me $40 for gas and he filled me up from a 7-Eleven."

• • •

From there, she must have headed west.

At 10:13 a.m. Wednesday, a Largo police officer stopped Murray at the intersection of West Bay Drive and Ridge Road, 87 miles from her home. She told officers she got turned around, and asked for directions back to Haines City.

She didn't appear to have any physical or mental illness, said Largo police Lt. Ed Sohoski. She answered the officer's questions. The officer called her husband to tell him she was okay, then pointed her back to the Howard Frankland Bridge.

"Largo?" Murray's husband said in an interview. "I kept asking, what's she doing all the way over there?"

She had never gotten lost before, he said. Never seemed confused. She doesn't take any medications. "They told me she was fine," he said. "She was on her way home."

At 2:38 p.m., four hours after she left Largo, another police officer found Murray in east Tampa, near W. Louisiana Avenue and N. Highland Avenue. She said she had missed the I-4 exit and was trying to get back to Haines City. The officer helped Murray find her way back to the highway.

When 10 p.m. came and she still wasn't home, someone in her family called the Largo police and said both she and her husband have dementia. The police issued a Silver Alert for a missing senior citizen.

• • •

Murray isn't sure where was when she ran out of gas the second time, late Wednesday. She pulled off the road and was just sitting there when someone walked up and asked if she was okay. She said she was. She wasn't scared. "I knew the Lord was with me."

But someone called the police.

"A very nice policeman, a lady policeman, drove me to a BP, where she said I would be safer than sitting in my truck," Murray said. "She gave me $5 for a drink. And I got a cold Sprite."

The BP was in Davenport, not far from Haines City. Murray didn't have a can to carry gas in, she said. So the man at the filling station called a tow truck. "And I just sat outside and waited, enjoying the view." She said she tried to call her husband, but he must have gone to church.

When the tow truck came, Murray got in with the driver. They headed up the highway, but she couldn't remember where she had left her pickup. She said he took her back to the BP.

"You know, you never know where you'll wind up," she said. "Or what's going to happen next."

She waited to see if that nice lady policeman came back. She didn't know everyone was worried, that highway signs were flashing and people praying.

• • •

When the BP clerk saw Murray back at the gas station, he called police. By the time they got there, Murray had gone to a nearby Perkins restaurant. They found her as she was coming out of the bathroom.

After criss-crossing the western half of Florida, she wound up about 14 miles away from home.

Her cousin and niece came. Her truck was parked at the Perkins — not lost on some side street. They drove Murray and her pickup home.

She told a reporter she didn't know what all the fuss was about. "I wasn't ever missing," she kept saying. "I was just late."

Katie Sanders can be reached at ksanders@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804. Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8825.

Missing Haines City woman found in Polk County after encounters in Largo, Tampa 05/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 1:52am]

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