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Lost elderly couple drives for five days through three states before being found

The couple from Sevierville set out to go to the hospital in Knoxville and were eventually found five days later in Atlanta.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — Police in Georgia have located a missing elderly couple from Sevier County after they were lost for nearly a week.

For five days, Tony and Delores Amaral drove, and drove, and drove. The Amaral's, both in their mid-80s, traveled between three states, lost and unable to remember how to get home.

The couple were found safe in Atlanta Tuesday evening by police officers, but not before they traveled hundreds of miles on crisscrossing highways and cities in their attempt to make it back to East Tennessee.

From Sevierville they drove their Gold PT Cruiser to Chattanooga, eventually leaving for Knoxville but somehow ending up in Middlesboro, Kentucky. Days later, family and police tracked the couple to Atlanta using bank transactions where they were found by a police officer.

The family is using this event as an opportunity to help others who may have loved ones who suffer from memory loss.

"It looks like one of them had fallen at home. It looks like one of them got in the car to take the other to UT Medical Center," said Lisa Oelerich, the daughter of the couple. "They wound up in Chattanooga. Then from Chattanooga they wound up in Kentucky, then from Kentucky they wound up outside Atlanta."

If it weren't for a nearby officer doing an everyday task, they may still be driving.

"She (the officer) was doing a routine traffic stop and my father hobbled up to her and asked for directions. That’s how they got found."

Oelerich said it’s time to have a conversation about taking away the keys to the car.

"The car will go away and we’ve got to figure out what kind of help they need and what kind of help they will allow us to give them," said Oelerich. "There’s not a lot of rights for family members when these kind of things happen."

There are several options for families hoping to help loved ones suffering from memory loss.

AARP offers driving classes for seniors at senior centers and churches.

AAA offers the CarFit program to make sure a car is safe for your loved ones.

Patricia Neal Rehab offers driving tests for seniors.

"It happens all the time. It happens all the time. It happened in my family," said Susan Long with the Knox County CAC Office on Aging. "It usually comes up suddenly and it’s often times a surprise to the individual and the family member that the situation is that severe."

Long said it sometimes takes going to court and getting lawyers to do things like take the keys away. She recommends that as a last resort.

"What I would do in a situation where there is a loving family member that is concerned is sit down with the family physician and do a group intervention," said Long. "Say dad, we’ve had something happen, we can’t have that happen again."

For Tony and Delores, the long road trip luckily had a safe ending.

"It really is a miracle," said Oelerich.

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