Frank Woodrow’s wife Susan suffers from dementia and when the BC Sheriff Service arrested her at their house without telling anyone in the family, it sparked a search by RCMP and Chilliwack Search and Rescue. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Family panic sparked after BC Sheriff Service arrests woman with dementia

When 63-year-old’s husband realized she was gone it prompted calls to RCMP and Search and Rescue

When Frank Woodrow got out of the shower at his home one day in January, he didn’t see his wife Susan so he assumed she had gone to lie down as she often does.

When their daughter called to say she was coming up for a visit, Frank went to wake up his wife. But she wasn’t there.

Susan suffers from a mild form of dementia so Frank was obviously concerned. He started to check places she might go, and calling neighbours near his Cultus Lake Road home to see if she had been spotted.

The 63-year-old wasn’t at the Hide-A-Way Cafe where they like to eat. The auto wrecker nearby on Vedder Mountain Road hadn’t seen her. His brother’s security system down the road didn’t capture her walking by.

“We were all starting to worry,” Frank said. “Our biggest concern was that she had gone towards Yarrow or Cultus or toward the river.

“Even though everybody was hoping for the best, we were really fearing for the worst.”

It all started in the early afternoon on Jan. 22. After exhausting ideas, Frank called the RCMP. That was at approximately 3:15 p.m. that day, according to police records.

An officer showed up to the Woodrows’ house. A thorough search of the property was conducted, and Chilliwack Search and Rescue was called in to assist.

Given two recent incidents of seniors with dementia walking away and being found deceased, the matter was taken very seriously.

• READ MORE: RCMP confirm body of missing Chilliwack senior found

• READ MORE: Search for missing Chilliwack senior with dementia comes to sad end

But soon after the whole incident began, the phone rang. It was someone with the BC Sheriff Service telling Frank he could come pick Susan up at the courthouse. Apparently she had a few thousand dollars of debt owed to credit card company Capital One. As Frank understands it, a bench warrant was issued for her arrest under the small claims process.

“I haven’t seen the paperwork and she wouldn’t remember anything,” Frank said.

The BC Sheriff Service is responsible for escort services in various instances, including for persons arrested in civil matters before the courts.

At this point it was around 4:30 p.m., according to RCMP which verified the situation occurred. Frank rushed down to the Chilliwack courthouse, but the doors were locked. He looked around the building until he found her.

“There is my wife standing there,” he said. “It’s dark out at this time. She is standing outside holding her purse wearing flip-flops and a sweater.”

Frank was very upset, admittedly losing his cool, finally finding some sheriffs and giving them an earful.

As their son Mike put it in a message to The Progress: “We’re lucky my dad is not in jail right now. He got very angry.”

Asked about how this could happen, how a woman with dementia could be arrested without a family member being told, and then released outside in the dark in January under-dressed, a spokesperson for the BC Sheriff Services said they were looking into the incident and they expressed “regret.”

“The BC Sheriff Service is looking into what happened and reviewing our processes,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“We want to make sure there is proper co-ordination between agencies and that we involve family where appropriate to support people’s well-being.

“We sincerely regret the distress caused to this individual and her family.”

While the RCMP did not comment further on the matter, Frank said the constable that came to his house was extremely helpful, and himself was shocked at the whole misunderstanding. Frank said the man from SAR told him that “in his 22 years of doing this he had never heard of anything like this.”

And while it all ended relatively quickly, Frank suggested that his wife’s dementia is mild and he wondered what would have happened with someone with a more serious case.

“They put her at risk,” he said. “I was just kind of floored. I couldn’t believe what had gone on here.”

Given the recent instances in Chilliwack and across B.C. of people with dementia going missing, Frank thinks this points ever more to the need for a Silver Alert system.

A co-founder of the BC Silver Alert said 2019 was a tragic year in the Lower Mainland, and the first 24 hours of a search are crucial.

• READ MORE: BC Silver Alert co-founder calls 2019 a tragic year for seniors with dementia

Frank also wonders why there isn’t more co-ordination between law enforcement agencies, but most of all, why the BC Sheriff Service didn’t just put a business card in the door or on the table when they arrested Susan.

“The beginning part was a screw-up, but the second part where she was released, I just can’t get past that,” Frank said. “I’m not planning on letting this go. I personally need some answers.”


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