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Rescued ‘silver alert’ driver dies

Lost 85-year-old developed pneumonia after ordeal

Staff writer

David Sawdy, found April 1 near Wagon Wheel and 90th Rds. after an extensive search, died Sunday, apparently of complications from exposure to the elements.

“Daddy passed,” his daughter, Terri Elliot, texted a Record reporter.

Sawdy became lost the afternoon of March 31 while driving to an eye appointment at 13th and Rock Rds. in Wichita.

After a series of wrong turns and misunderstood directions that led him from 31st and Meridian to Newton and finally to near Florence, the 85-year-old found himself stranded without gasoline on US-50 at Wagon Wheel Rd.

Elliot, an Andover school teacher, reported him missing to that city’s police department when she got off work March 31.

Although normally reserved for missing people with dementia, from which his family said Sawdy did not suffer, a silver alert was issued by Kansas Bureau of Investigation at 10 p.m.

A driver reported at 4 p.m. April 1 — as much as a day after Sawdy had become stranded there — seeing Sawdy’s truck parked on the eastbound shoulder of US-50.

Officers used dogs, a drone, and a Kansas Highway Patrol helicopter to try to find him. A Douglass couple found him about an hour after law enforcement officers called off their search for him about 10:30 p.m. April 1.

Andover Captain Tom Gresham said Elliot, “came in to make the report after she got off work at 4 p.m. or a little bit later than that.”

The officer who took Elliot’s report verified information about Sawdy. Convinced his disappearance was indeed out of the ordinary, the officer called the KBI to see whether Sawdy would be eligible for a silver alert.

“It’s not an instant process,” Gresham said.

According to KBI’s website says silver alerts may be issued when law enforcement has reason to believe a person reported as missing is either suffering from dementia or is older than 65 and has a medical or mental illness that reduces their ability to make sound and reasonable decisions, could diminish his or her ability to survive without assistance, or could pose a risk of injury.

Silver alerts also can go out if a person is missing under circumstances that are not normal to the person’s routine or habits.

That fit Sawdy, who typically didn’t drive.

“Care should be taken to be reasonably certain the person reporting the missing person is not using the system to locate another for reasons other than to assure their safety,” the KBI website instructs. “For example, some people may attempt to use the system to find an adult who has voluntarily and knowingly chosen to go elsewhere away from the complainant or a domestic abuser may use the system to attempt to find their spouse.”

An investigating officer also must determine whether it is “appropriate to request public assistance in locating the individual.”

Footprints indicated that after running out of gas, Sawdy went south toward Doyle Creek.

He broke his nose falling and suffered several bruises. Emergency responders took him to St. Luke Hospital but later transferred him to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita.

Doctors transferred him April 5 to intensive care because his lungs were inflamed and he was aspirating.

Sawdy worked at Boeing for 50 years, his family said. He had a master’s degree in math and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He worked on NASA’s Apollo project in 1969, his children said.

Last modified April 12, 2023

 

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