SAFE AT HOME: A disoriented Wayne man who’d gone missing yesterday returned home this afternoon, telling his family he’d gotten lost while returning from a doctor’s visit — and ending up more than 100 miles away in Philadelphia.
John Carroll, 70, told family members he feared that they’d be angry if he called to say he was lost, his daughter, Eileen, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT shortly before 3 p.m.
Twenty minute earlier, her father suddenly showed up at the family home as the search for him intensified across two states.
“We were standing on the deck having a coffee. My mom had run out to get new phones,” Eileen Carroll said. “I turned around and he was just standing there. I couldn’t believe it.
“He was disoriented. He had a kind of glazed-over look. He said there were detours and he got lost.
“I said, ‘Dad, why didn’t you call?’
“He said, ‘I thought you guys would be mad.’ ”
“All I know,” she said he told them, “is that you always have to go north to get back home.”
Citing two credit cards charges that showed up in the more than 24 hours that he was missing, Carroll said she asked if he’d actually gone to Philadelphia.
“I was close to it, I know,” he replied. “I went to a Wah-Wah.”
“Yeah, we know,” his daughter told him.
She then told him how worried everyone was about him.
“Oh, my,” he replied. “I didn’t know.”
“It’s not like him,” Carroll told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “He’s a very smart man. It’s as if he didn’t realize how long he’d been gone.”
The elder Carroll was kept overnight for observation at Chilton Memorial Hospital in Pompton Plains.
Doctors told family members they suspect possible global amnesia, a sudden, temporary condition in which you know who you are but suffer a short-term memory lapse that can’t be attributed to epilepsy, a stroke or other common neurological conditions. In most cases, experts say, it doesn’t return.
Distraught family members launched a search for the elder Carroll, a Paterson native — with considerable help from Wayne police and an army of social media followers — after he failed to return home from a doctor’s visit yesterday ( CLIFFVIEW PILOT published a story about his disappearance about 90 minutes before he returned home).
Carroll, who lives with his wife, daughter and 13-year-old granddaughter, drove his wife to work yesterday morning in her car, as he ordinarily does, before heading to his doctor’s office barely a 10-minute ride from home.
Around 3 p.m., his daughter got home from her job after picking up her daughter at school.
Her father wasn’t there, but that didn’t concern Eileen Carroll: Although a homebody, her dad often popped over to the Foodtown and Rite-Aid in town.
“He likes his cigarettes and coffee,” she said.
“Otherwise, he’s almost always home — he doesn’t even go to the diner,” Carroll told CLIFFVIEW PILOT as her father’s disappearance passed 24 hours this afternoon. “He likes to watch CNN and sports and walk the dog.”
That’s why, as 4 o’clock came, she began to worry.
“We were going to go to the store, but I figured I’d call my mother first and see whether she knew where he was,” Carroll said.
Her mom — also named Eileen — confirmed that her husband dropped her off before heading to his 11 a.m. doctor’s appointment.
“So now I’m thinking: ‘The most he could have done is stop at the store’,” the younger Carroll said. ” ‘He should be home by now.’ ”
She called the doctor, anyway, just to be sure.
Then she called her mother back.
Her mother’s boss took her outside to backtrack what would have been John Carroll’s path from their office complex.
Mrs. Carroll then called and spoke directly with her husband’s doctor, who said there was “no bad news, just a follow-up visit, he’s fine,” their daughter said.
Worried, the younger Carroll called physician again and got the same message.
“At this point it’s obvious that something isn’t right,” she said.
Carroll then launched a phone chain of family and friends. She also called Wayne police, who came to the house and took a report.
Loved ones drove to familiar spots and through as many area parking lots as they could, “in case he had a stroke or heart attack or maybe had an early onset of Alzheimer’s,” she said. They even went to cemeteries where family members are buried.
John Carroll had gotten dizzy and took two falls recently. Another time he was walking the family dog when he lost a shoe in the snow and came home without it, his daughter said.
Otherwise, her father has remained sharp, lucid and able-bodied, Eileen Carroll said.
He had his bank card and a VISA with him but “doesn’t believe in (cellphones)” his daughter said. The car doesn’t have EZ-Pass: Her parents don’t travel far enough to need it, she explained.
The first clue of any sort came around 2 a.m., when a charge showed up on John Carroll’s card for $75 at a Luc Oil service station in Philadelphia.
His daughter called Wayne police, who immediately sent over two officers.
“They’ve been so great through all of this,” Carroll said.
There’s no previous connection that would explain a trip to Philadelphia, she said. Her father had only been there once — for a school event for her when she was very young, Carroll said.
Two more charges showed up out of Philadelphia just before 6:30 a.m. One was for a dollar at a Dunkin Donuts and the other for $9.84 at a Wah-Wah (Some initial confusion was resolved after it was believed the charge was from a Wal-Mart.)
Employees at both said it was difficult to help because of the number of people who pass through their stores.
Wayne Detective Dave Collins worked the case intently, Carroll told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
He tried to obtain a Silver Alert, but her father didn’t meet the criteria because he doesn’t have Alzheimers, she said. Collins nonetheless got New Jersey State Police to flag the car’s license plate.
The detective also was trying to contact a service station in Mount Laurel, where a $15 charge was registered at 9:15 a.m.
“That could be good news,” Carroll said just before 1 p.m. “First Philadelphia, then Mount Laurel. Hopefully he’s headed back home.”
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