Local News

Widow sues Durham over Silver Alert response

Posted August 29, 2009 3:54 p.m. EDT
Updated August 30, 2009 7:43 a.m. EDT

— A lawsuit filed by the widow of an elderly Hillsborough man alleges that if Durham police had more quickly issued a Silver Alert, it might have saved her husband's life.

Jasper Villines, 73, was walking east in the westbound lane of N.C. Highway 98 around 12:45 a.m. April 20, 2008, when a car hit and killed him at the intersection with Sherron Road, authorities said. His vehicle was found a short distance away.

Villines' wife and daughter said they asked Durham police to put out an alert for him, but their requests were ignored at first.

Family members said they were told that Villines was not old enough for a Silver Alert.

The state's Silver Alert program is designed to more quickly locate adults with mental impairments like Alzheimer's disease. Bulletins are issued to law enforcement agencies and media statewide. Alerts have been issued for people much younger than Villines.

Villines was helping his wife return a rental car to Raleigh-Durham International Airport at about 6 p.m., the day before he died, when he took a wrong turn off the Durham Freeway and became lost, relatives said. He had recently been diagnosed with dementia, they said.

A state Highway Patrol trooper told the family that he stopped Villines at about 10:30 p.m. because he was driving erratically, but he let him go because there was no alert for law enforcement to be on the lookout for him.

That occurred about 30 minutes before the family called 911 to report him missing. Villines was killed early the next morning.

According to a timeline of events prepared by the department, officers were attempting to process the various forms needed to enter Villines into NCIC when a network outage occurred.

The outage, around midnight, occurred at Durham Police Headquarters and the Durham 911 Center, which affects access to the dispatch computer, the Internet and DCI, where NCIC information is entered into the system.