(ran ET edition of TAMPA & STATE)
Edward Hurley had aimlessly walked out of his home late at night a half-dozen times before.
Usually a neighbor, a sheriff's deputy or newspaper carrier would find the confused 83-year-old and take him home.
At 1 a.m. Saturday, Hurley walked out for the last time.
A Hernando County Sheriff's Office helicopter _ alerted that Hurley, who had dementia, was missing _ spotted a body floating face down in the canal near Hurley's Casa Court property at 7 a.m.
Officials ruled Hurley's death an accidental drowning. When deputies pulled Hurley out of the canal, he was still wearing the dark shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers he had on when he left.
"The investigators found no evidence of foul play," sheriff's spokeswoman Deanna Dammer said. "He left on foot and apparently fell in or jumped into the canal."
His widow, Anna, said Hurley's dementia had already diminished his quality of life. "He was a strong, proud man," she said. "Seeing him that way was very sad."
Mrs. Hurley, 80, was out on the wharf in front of her home with family members looking for her husband when her son saw deputies put yellow police tape on the dock five or six houses down the canal. At that point, she knew something terrible had happened.
She does not think her husbandwould have jumped in. She said he either had a heart attack or lost his balance and fell.
"He still had a lot of spirit," she said. "He didn't want to die."
The World War II veteran, who won a Bronze Star for his service in the central Pacific, worked as a printing press foreman for the The Washington Post after the war. He had six children and, after retiring from the Post, moved with his wife to Florida 18 years ago.
Dementia was diagnosed several years ago, Mrs. Hurley said. For the most part, Hurley was lucid during the day, she said, but at night he would become depressed, angry and irrational.
Mrs. Hurley tried to tell her husband, who had wandered off more often than usual last month, that the practice was dangerous. His unplanned outings worried her, she said she told him.
The family tried to have him institutionalized for his protection, Mrs. Hurley said. But when deputies came during the day, he was charming and rational, so they did not see any need. Many doctors saw only his rational side as well, Mrs. Hurley said.
"They didn't know how bad it was," she said.
"They couldn't know unless they saw him at night. Saw the dangerous things he would do."
She even had an alarm installed on the front door so she would know when he tried to leave. The alarm sounded Saturday, but he had disappeared before she could catch him.
"He was a good husband. A good father," she said.
"I'll miss him."