The discovery of a 2001 Buick LeSabre around 11:30 a.m. Thursday on a little-used dead-end road near Eel River led 45 emergency personnel and family members to search for a Clay County woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease who had been missing for 24 hours.
Donna Field, 70, of Coalmont, was reported missing Wednesday afternoon by family members after she left home at 11:30 a.m. and did not return. The family had searched familiar places in hopes of finding her before contacting the Clay County Sheriff's Dept.
Because family members of an Alzheimer's patient become very aware of their behavior they pay special attention in these types of cases.
"Anytime someone with Alzheimer's takes off, families need to immediately notify authorities to get the news out," Sheriff Mike Heaton said. "They were prepared and had details, such as how she was dressed, that helped in the investigation."
Missing person reports were issued Wednesday to Terre Haute television stations first in an attempt to get visual information out to the public because Fields left her home in a vehicle, which makes searching for the missing person harder than if they walked away, said Heaton. With the weather changing over to colder temperatures and rain, the family and authorities became concerned about her location and how well she would do without proper clothing.
Shortly after 11:30 a.m. Friday, Dave Schiedler, a farmer in the Coalmont area, phoned the family to report he had located a beige Buick LeSabre at the end of C.R. 500 W., but she was not inside. It was approximately seven miles from her home.
Members of the Clay County Sheriff's Department, Indiana State Police, Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources, Lewis Township Volunteer Fire Department, Clay City's deputy town marshal and members of the Clay City fire department arrived on the scene with family members to begin searching the area for Fields.
A medical helicopter was contacted to aid in the search, but due to bad weather the helicopter was unable to assist.
A canine unit from the Putnamville Correctional Facility was also called in. all terrain vehicles assisted in the ground search while air boats were used on Eel River. Just as Search and Rescue Teams were preparing to replace the first wave of search teams, a call from the bloodhound unit reported locating Fields three-quarters of a mile north of her car sitting under a tree on the west side of the river shortly after 3:30 p.m. Conscious, but a little disoriented, Fields had suffered no injuries. She was transported by ambulance to Regional Hospital to be checked out.
Family members reported later that doctors were going to keep her overnight to raise her body temperature back to normal, Heaton said.
"The weather didn't hinder the ground search, but it was beginning to effect the amount of time search teams were going to be able to be out there," Heaton said. "All the emergency personnel focused on one area, as we've been trained, and it helped to bring this to a great ending for the family."