Everyday Angels

Charlotte sanitation workers help rescue elderly man with dementia

Charlotte sanitation workers (left to right) Mark Peters, Steven Cunningham and Ronald Brooks. The crew stopped to help an elderly woman who flagged them down. Her husband, suffering from dementia, had wandered away from home, and she couldn’t coax him back.
Charlotte sanitation workers (left to right) Mark Peters, Steven Cunningham and Ronald Brooks. The crew stopped to help an elderly woman who flagged them down. Her husband, suffering from dementia, had wandered away from home, and she couldn’t coax him back. Courtesy of Denada Jackson

A few weeks ago, Mark Peters, Ronald Brooks and Steven Cunningham were on their route as workers for the city of Charlotte in Solid Waste Services. But to them, their jobs involve more than trash pickup. “We’re here to keep the customer satisfied,” Brooks said by phone recently.

That work took a surprising turn recently when the crew was at the corner of Tipperary Place and Stonehaven Drive. An elderly woman flagged them down. Her husband, suffering from dementia, had wandered away from home, and she couldn’t coax him back.

The crew didn’t hesitate to stop and help. “By the grace of God, my grandmother’s 101,” Brooks said. “She’s still in good shape, but if this happened to her, I’d want somebody to help.”

He told Peters, who was driving, they needed to stop. And he took the lead in trying to get the man back home. “(Brooks) usually does all the talking – like he’s doing now,” joked Cunningham.

“I’m a people person,” Brooks said with a laugh.

Brooks said, “The man looked at us like: ‘I don’t know you. Why are you here?’ He looked very fragile.”

“I told him, ‘We’re all in this together.’”

“He was taking baby steps,” Brooks continued. “So we did, too.”

The entire “rescue” operation took about seven minutes. The wife – who wishes to remain anonymous – was with the crew and her husband the entire time.

Once the crew was back at their truck, they called their supervisor to explain what happened. He said, “Well, that’s part of your job. Is everyone all right? 10-4.”

A few days later, the supervisor told the crew, “I’ve gotten a phone call about you.” The wife who flagged the crew down had her grandson call the city to thank the crew for all they had done for her and her husband that desperate day.

The man who wandered away from home a few weeks ago has since died. But his widow recalls with fondness the sanitation crew who stopped to help when she needed them most.

Note: This is the third time city sanitation workers have been featured in Everyday Angels. The column also cited one crew’s efforts to free a kitten trapped in an automobile engine compartment and another crew that stopped to help a motorist whose car got hung-up on construction debris.

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Did a stranger step in to offer you help out of the blue? Email rwilkerson@charlotteobserver.com. Include name, hometown and daytime number. Or mail Everyday Angels, Charlotte Observer, 600 S. Tryon, Charlotte, NC 28230. Roland Wilkerson

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