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Local News

Denny Franks Found Near His Home West of Goleta After 24-Hour Disappearance

Case of missing man with dementia puts focus on resources that can help families of those with mental deficiencies

After a disappearance of nearly 24 hours, a missing Goleta man was located Thursday afternoon, authorities said. He was dehydrated but in relatively good condition.

Dennis “Denny” Franks, 73, who suffers from dementia, disappeared near his home in Rancho Embarcadero west of Goleta on Wednesday. He was last seen about 6 p.m. Wednesday near Vereda Leyenda and Calle Real, less than two miles from his Vereda Pradera home.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said Franks was discovered shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday near Vereda Cordillera, a few blocks from his house. A resident of the 100 block of Vereda Cordillera reported finding Franks sitting among medium-sized brush.

Sugars said Franks, who requires medication for his condition and appeared to be dehydrated, received medical treatment at the scene before being transported to the hospital.

Franks is the former owner of Toyota of Santa Barbara, 5611 Hollister Ave., but he sold the dealership in 2006 and retired. In 2007, he was named the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year at the chamber’s annual Goleta’s Finest Awards.

But the vibrant, beaming man photographed at the awards presentation at Bacara Resort & Spa is now about 40 pounds lighter, “quite frail and he shuffles along when he walks,” his son-in-law, David Young, told Noozhawk on Thursday morning.

Leeana McNeilley, executive director of Help Unlimited, knows the fear and pain the Franks family was going through.

McNeilley’s mother, Gwen, has Alzheimer’s disease and went missing several years ago — eventually making it back home safe after a long walk.

“The family has to be going nuts with worry,” McNeilley said before Franks was located Thursday. “It breaks your heart for the people going through it; they must be agitated and anxious.”

When she learned her mother had wandered off for the first time, McNeilley said it was a shock. Help Unlimited has not only aided families with finding in-home and other resources for their ailing loved ones, but the company has assisted her mother after she was diagnosed with Alzhiemer’s several years ago.

“You only have in that case so much ability to control the situation, but it was a real wake-up call for us,” she said. “It allowed me to put my foot down and say mom is no longer able to navigate the bus system, and if she wants to go places she needs to have someone with her.”

But it’s a delicate balance between safety and preserving a loved one’s freedom, she added.

McNeilley’s mother got off at the wrong bus stop in Ventura. Despite not having a good sense of direction, she walked several miles home. McNeilley said her heart goes out to the Franks family.

“It makes me want to cry,” she said. “The upside is it’s not cold and wet, but when you’re disoriented and frightened, he might be in a place that he can’t even ask for help.”

McNeilley worries that not enough people realize resources are available to help prevent such situations.

There are many Santa Barbara services like Help Unlimited that can provide a safety net for those who aren’t living with a loved one, as well as care that specializes in mental deficiencies, McNeilley said.

One of the best resources is a GPS wristband with transmitters that emit silent signals picked up only by unique receivers and directional antennas, which are distributed by the Sheriff’s Department, said Dr. Eryn Eckert, program and family services director at Friendship Adult Day Care Center, 89 Eucalyptus Lane.

“What we recommend is Project Lifesaver, which is a wristband that notifies the Sheriff’s Department if someone wanders,” Eckert said.

Another option is the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return bracelet that has information regarding the person’s condition and a family member’s telephone number displayed.

Keeping an individual’s mind occupied is often the best way to deter wandering, Eckert said.

“What we try to do (at Friendship Center) is to engage them while they are here and keep them interested while making sure needs are met as well,” she said. “Many wanderers can be bored, or looking for a bathroom or some other need.”

For family members caring for someone with a mental deficiency, Eckert said it is beneficial to ask for help and advice from others in a similar situation via support groups. There are some red flags loved ones should pay attention to if they are worried about a family member’s safety, she said.

“If the person is getting confused when they are in their own house or having difficulty performing routine tasks, those are clear warning signs,” Eckert said.

» Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department’s Project Lifesaver.

» Click here for more information from the Alzheimer’s Association for those who are caring for someone with a mental deficiency.

» Click here for Noozhawk’s Senior Living section, which contains a wealth of articles, advice and examples of programs and services available for both seniors and adult children.

Sugars said authorities had been concerned for Franks’ safety because of his age, the length of time he was missing and his exposure to the elements. Franks was wearing only a sweatshirt and jeans when he disappeared. Wednesday was unseasonably warm, however, and overnight temperatures in the neighborhood were in the 50s — several degrees higher than usual.

Sheriff’s deputies, a sheriff’s helicopter, the sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team and two Search and Rescue dogs had searched for Franks since about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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