Thursday, August 30, 2018

The right place at the right time: Silver Alert ends well thanks to alert WSDOT staffer

By Andrea E. Petrich
Maintenance supervisor BJ Cunningham was in the right
place at the right time in helping put a happy ending
 to a Silver Alert.

The timing was just right for maintenance supervisor BJ Cunningham, and it’s a good thing, too. A couple of random minutes on a random day in August ended up making all the difference.

“If I had gotten into the truck a couple of minutes later, I would’ve never heard the missing elderly alert called out,” Cunningham said.

But he didn’t.

Let’s back up just a bit. Just like he does every work day, Cunningham jumped in his truck in Greenwater – about 19 miles east of Enumclaw near the King/Pierce county line not far from Mount Rainier – right around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 28 and called into our 24/7 Traffic Management Center to let them know he was in service. Then he started his daily drive down State Route 410.

Just a couple of minutes into that drive Cunningham heard the crackle on the radio as a Silver Alert came through. He noted the description – a gold minivan with Oregon plates – and continued the drive down the state highway toward the Enumclaw shop where he meets up with his team each day.

“We hear those things on the radio and think what are the odds,” he said. “I’ve been with DOT just over 21 years. Over the years it’s just kind of engrained in you to keep your eyes open.”

Like Amber Alerts, a Silver Alert is a public notification system used to broadcast information about missing persons, typically senior citizens.

In this case, Cunningham’s knowledge of this stretch of highway and focus on what was happening on the road helped end a scary night for a Blaine family.

About five miles down the road where the speed limit increases by 20 mph, Cunningham came upon a vehicle still doing the reduced speed limit and started to pass it when he looked twice. It was a gold van. It had Oregon plates.
Maintenance supervisor BJ Cunningham worked with our Traffic Management Center staff and the Washington State Patrol to identify and assist a Silver Alert north of Mt. Rainier.

He quickly found a place to pull over and called in to double check the plate number. It sounded like a match but he wasn’t sure so he started down the road again, hoping to catch up with the van. When he did, sure enough, the plate info matched. Our TMC staff quickly patched Cunningham into a call with Washington State Patrol. He continued to follow behind the van until he was joined by a WSP trooper who got the elderly driver to safely pull over. Cunningham and another colleague then worked with WSP to help get the missing woman’s vehicle to a safe space and get her somewhere safe to rest.

It was a very happy ending to a Silver Alert that could’ve had a very different ending if not for Cunningham and his attentiveness to his surroundings.

Instead of zoning out – something many of us may do when we drive the same route over and over and over –  he noticed that something was out of place.

“Just another day at the office,” Cunningham said. “If it was my mother or my grandmother, I would be very thankful to the individual who was paying attention and helped get them home.”


roobugsmom said...

So proud of this guy! He's a hero in my book❤

Unknown said...

Every time I see a WSDOT vehicle and employees out on the road, I say to whomever is riding with me "there's my coworkers" and I wave. You don't know me from anywhere, but I'm so proud of what you do every day. Thanks for being in the right place at the right time! I'd hope we'd all pay attention and help when we can.

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