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Published: Thursday, 10/5/2006

Trip takes a turn for the better in Perrysburg

Bob Suttles believes in angels.

He said one was watching over his father, Martin Suttles, an 81-year-old Alzheimer's patient, who left the younger Mr. Suttles' house in West Virginia Monday and tried to drive to his hometown of Battle Creek, Mich.

Martin Suttles didn't know how to get to where he was going but made it to a motel Monday in Marion, Ohio. He reached Perrysburg the next morning and was picked up by Perrysburg police Officer Dave Schmaltz and Sgt. J.D. Justus, who took him to the police station.

Mr. Suttles, 59, picked up his father in Perrysburg Tuesday evening and they're safely in Battle Creek, where the two are recovering from what started as a frightening ordeal and turned into a remarkable experience.

"There was an angel with everyone around him," Bob Suttles said. "This is something I wouldn't wish on anybody."

Mr. Suttles said his father left from near Charleston, W.Va., about 1 p.m. Monday. He report-ed his father missing to the local sheriff's office six hours later.

Tuesday morning, Mr. Suttles had the car his father was driving tracked by a safety and security system called OnStar, which came packaged with Martin Suttles' 2001 Buick LeSabre.

At 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, an OnStar representative told Mr. Suttles his father's car couldn't be found. But a signal from the car was picked up two hours later on I-75 near U.S. 20.

Officer Schmaltz stopped the car as it was pulling into a gas station on U.S. 20. Sergeant Justus arrived a short time later and determined that Martin Suttles was not fit to continue driving.

While at the police station, Sergeant Justus called Mr. Suttles to tell him his father was safe. Mr. Suttles told Sergeant Justus his father is fond of talking about his days in the Navy during World War II and asked if the sergeant knew any old sailors who could talk with his dad.

Sergeant Justus contacted Bill O'Connor, 81, a retired Toledo fire captain and Navy veteran who has a mild case of Alzheimer's.

Not only did Mr. O'Connor agree to go to the police station and speak with Martin Suttles, he wound up entertaining his fellow sailor for eight hours until Bob Suttles arrived.

"You've got to do these things in life because you never know when the coin is going to flip and it might be you," Mr. O'Connor said.

As the two began to talk, they discovered they'd served on sister vessels in the same South Pacific battles during the war.

Mr. O'Connor took Martin Suttles on a tour of Perrysburg. The two ate lunch at Tony Packo's restaurant in East Toledo and walked the docks along the Maumee River.

Back at the police station, they lobbed Navy jargon back and forth, laughing while calling one another names like "swabbie."

"It was just a neat thing to see," Sergeant Justus said.

Mr. O'Connor said Martin Suttles enjoyed himself the entire time, though he continually talked about retrieving his car and continuing his journey.

When the younger Mr. Suttles reunited with his father, there were scoldings and questions - and hugs and thanks. "I am so grateful to Sergeant Justus, the Perrysburg Police Department, and Mr. O'Connor," Bob Suttles said. "They are all first-class individuals - I mean first class."

Some might even say they have wings.

- Joe Vardon



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