ST.JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – An 83-year-old man considered endangered was found alive in a marsh about 20 hours after he walked away from Flagler Hospital on Wednesday, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said.
According to Flagler Hospital, Arthur LaFontaine was treated for a clinical condition and discharged from the emergency care center early Wednesday afternoon. The hospital said he was waiting in the discharge lounge but left before his ride arrived.
About 100 first responders searched throughout the night and day looking for LaFontaine, a Navy veteran who suffers from dementia.
"It was going through thick brush and woods and muddy areas, trying to find him. But we weren't going to leave any area unturned until we located him," said Jared Monie, one of the Sheriff's Office Major Crimes detectives who found LaFontaine.
Detectives said surveillance showed LaFontaine walking outside Flagler Hospital about 4 p.m. Wednesday. Detectives said they found pieces of evidence in a marsh near the hospital and linked them to LaFontaine.
On Thursday afternoon, deputies said, LaFontaine was spotted by the Sheriff's Office helicopter about 100 yards into a marsh near the State Road 312 Bridge.
Deputies who had been searching near the waterfront along S.R. 312 said that they found him on his hands and knees, covered in mud.
"It was quite a relief and a blessing because he was very weak and fragile and dehydrated," said Jeff Cook, the other Sheriff's Office Major Crimes detective who found LaFontaine. "He was so fragile, the state he was in -- sometimes they don’t always turn out that way, so it's good that it did this time.”
Cook and Monie don't claim to be heroes, but said it's rewarding knowing they found LaFontaine safe.
"It’s a great feeling," Monie said. "One of the best parts of our job is being able to help somebody and help their family find a loved one because I know if it was one of my loved ones, I would want the same attention."
LaFontaine was taken for treatment at Flagler Hospital, where he was in good condition as of Thursday afternoon.
Flagler Hospital officials said they are thankful LaFontaine was found through the great work of the Sheriff's Office.