Hillsborough, N.C. — The death of a Hillsborough man has raised questions about a communication breakdown in the state's Silver Alert system for people with brain disorders.
Jasper Villines, 73, was helping his wife return a rental car to Raleigh-Durham International Airport at about 6 p.m. Saturday when he took a wrong turn off the Durham Freeway and became lost, relatives said.
Although he had recently been diagnosed with dementia, he insisted he could follow his wife to the airport from their Hillsborough home.
"He said, 'Oh no, I can do this. I can drive. I'll follow you,'" Leola Villines said.
Jasper Villines was walking east in the westbound lane of N.C. Highway 98 at about 12:45 a.m. Sunday when he was hit by a car at the intersection with Sherron Road and was killed, authorities said.
His wife and daughter said they think he was trying to find his way home when he was hit. His vehicle was found a short distance away.
"I feel like he could've been found and wanted to be found," Leola Villines said.
They question why Durham police refused their request to issue a Silver Alert on him hours before he was killed.
The state launched the system in December to more quickly locate adults with mental impairments like Alzheimer's disease. Bulletins are issued to law enforcement agencies and media statewide.
WRAL.com sends subscribers a Breaking News alert and posts that on the Web site whenever a Silver Alert is issued for someone in the WRAL viewing area.
Leola Villines called Orange County 911 from her home to report her missing husband and was transferred to Durham County dispatchers because Jasper Villines was last seen in Durham.
Eventually, the Villines' daughter, Ava Johnson, went in person to the Durham Police Department to request a Silver Alert. She said officers turned her down.
"I said, 'Why? Why you can't do this?' They say, 'You're father is not old enough,'" Johnson said. The state issues Silver Alerts for people of varying ages, including one recently for a 24-year-old man who suffered from a mental impairment.
The North Carolina Center for Missing Persons oversees the Silver Alert program, and center officials said they can activate an alert only at the request of a local law enforcement agency.
"We were very concerned because it seemed like nobody cared," Leola Villines said.
Durham police initially told WRAL Monday that they didn't have a record of the case. Later, department spokeswoman Kammie Michael said officers issued a bulletin for police to be on the lookout for Jasper Villines, even though there was no Silver Alert.
Michael said the department is looking into why the family's request was denied.
Leola Villines said she knew her husband of 50 years was in declining health, but his sudden death is hard to take.
"I really can't describe because we were very, very close," she said.