Live Oak police consider GPS tracking for special needs children

by: Kristy Wolski Updated:

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LIVE OAK, Fla. - The Live Oak Police Department is looking into whether GPS tracking devices could help save the lives of children with special needs. 

The idea came to Police Chief Buddy Williams several weeks ago after a tragedy struck his community. 

A 9-year-old autistic boy, Leo Walker, wandered from his home overnight. Despite a massive search effort, the boy was later found dead in a nearby pond

Williams, who has a special needs daughter, told Action News he knows how common it is for special needs children to wander. 

“I live it,” he said. “I have locks on my refrigerator, locks on my pantry, door knobs backwards in my house. I have an alarm system in my house, I have alarms on the windows. It hit very close to home -- it tore at my heart every hour that this kid was gone.” 

Thursday evening, Williams held a public meeting to discuss the possibility of GPS tracking for special needs children and for adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  

“We GPS track our cars. We GPS track our phones,” he said. “Why can’t we have a safe and simple solution to GPS locate children with special needs?” 

Beth Hagan, whose daughter has cerebral palsy, attended the meeting to see how she can help. 

“People were so shocked that a child could get out of the house,” she said. “But that is everyday life for special needs parents.” 

Nathalie Slane was also in attendance. Her grandson Tanner has autism and already uses a watch-style tracking device provided through Project Lifesaver. 

She would like to see all special needs kids with the technology.  

“This way, it will alert you and let you know and then we can respond in time,” said Slane. 

The idea is still in the early stages and Williams is still looking into the types of devices available.  

Of course, it all comes down to money and finding the funds is the next step. 

Williams is working with state Rep. Elizabeth Porter on funding. She also attended Thursday’s meeting. 

Williams is hoping the can find grant money or a way insurance could cover some of the costs. He is also considering fundraisers. 

Once the funding is in place for the technology, Williams tells Action News parents would choose whether to have their children participate. 

Williams is planning to hold a follow-up meeting in the next few weeks.