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GPS tracking system helped save Venice man's life

7:24 PM, Dec 5, 2013   |    comments
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Venice, Florida -- GPS systems help us get to where we are going. Now, that same technology helped save the life of a mentally disabled man.

The Sarasota Police Department started Project Lifesaver six years ago. It's a GPS bracelet-like device worn on the wrist of someone who may go missing. Officers say it has a 100% success rate and James Mondello is proof of that.

PHOTOS: GPS tracking system helps save Venice man's life

"Project Lifesaver saved his life," says Sgt. Ron Perisho, a Venice Police officer.

Venice Police officers say 50-year-old James Mondello a mentally disabled man due to a head injury walked away from the Banyan Residence around 9 o'clock Tuesday night wearing one of the tracking bracelets.

Sarasota Police Officer Danny Robbins explained how the device works.

"Each client is given their own radio frequency downloaded into our database Project Lifesaver."

Using a tracking device the bracelet gives off a chirping sound that grows louder the closer it gets to the person who's missing. Mondello's bracelet led officers to the mangroves off Caspersen Beach more than two miles from the Banyan Residence.

"It's nothing but mangroves and debris -- it's really thick," described Officer Bill Masters with the Venice Police Department's Marine Division.

"It was so thick we couldn't crawl through it," added Perisho.

He covered about 500 yards on foot through the mangroves with Project Lifesaver volunteer Martha Bohn until the dense mangroves kept them from walking anymore.

Officers continued their search on the water.

"The pinging got stronger," said Masters.

Then, Mondello made a move that helped save his life.

"He actually turned his head sideways I caught a glimpse of his cheek only way we could've seen him," said Perisho. "He was along the bank where the bank washed away, nestled into the roots of the mangrove trees."

Rescuers say it's a good thing they found Mondello when they did because high tide was just hours away.

"[If] we didn't find him when we did, he would have drowned -- no doubt," said Marine Officer Paul Joyce with the City of Venice.

Perisho said Mondello was alert when they found him.

"He was conscious. He was totally exhausted at that point, he had given up."

Perisho said the first thing Mondello asked was where his sunglasses were.

Police said Mondello suffered some cuts and bruises, but if not for the tracking bracelet "he would not have been found alive".

Officer Robbins said there are 75 at-risk adults who use the tracking system and 30 of them are children who are either autistic or born with Down Syndrome.

Since the program began in 2007, Robbins said there have been 50 missing person cases and all 50 have been successfully found using the Project Lifesaver device. The system has a start of fee of $275 dollars and $7 monthly maintenance fee, but there is financial assistance available.

"No one is turned away," Robbins said.


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