WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A Winston-Salem family is relieved and grateful after a Tennessee state trooper found their loved one, who has dementia and Alzheimer's, and had been reported missing.
A Silver Alert was issued for Julian Papp, 87, of Winston-Salem, Monday.
WXII 12 News talked with Papp's family about the incident.
"Afraid. I was afraid because he still recognizes us, but there are so many things he doesn't understand and recognize anymore," said Anna Freifeld, Papp's daughter.
Freifeld said her mother was at her doctor's appointment while staff members in the lobby watched over her father Monday afternoon.
When her mother returned to the lobby a few minutes later, she said her father drove away.
"We didn't know he knew how to drive. It's been several years," she said. "He hasn't attempted to drive for several years now."
Papp was later found in Knoxville, Tennessee, after driving for about four hours from Winston-Salem, the Tennessee State Highway Patrol told WXII 12 News.
Sgt. Michael Turley, who's been with the agency for more than two decades, passed his parked car on the side of the interstate on Tuesday at about 1 a.m., with temperatures in the 30s. He exited the interstate and turned around to check on the vehicle.
"I went by and just saw it last second. I knew I needed to go back and check it," he said.
Despite the frigid temps, Turley and Papp had a heartwarming interaction in the middle of the night.
"He's Hungarian, originally where he's from. I said is he hungry? He said no, Hungarian. I'm Hungarian. I just kind of chuckled a little bit and laughed. I said OK, I understand, sir, but would you like to have some food? He agreed and got into the car and went to the exit."
And that's when Turley brought Papp to the Waffle House and bought him a nice warm meal.
WXII 12 News asked Turley the reason he went above and beyond to help a stranger he had just met on the interstate.
"I just treated him like I would want one of my loved ones to be treated if they were ever in a situation like that," he said. "I had a good partner (Papp) that night, so we just kind of sat in the parking lot of headquarters and enjoyed each other's company, and the family got there at 5:30 in the morning."
Papp's family arrived that morning and met the man who kept their beloved Papp safe after an emotional search for him.
"He (Turley) had just helped somebody change a tire when he (Turley) found dad on the highway," said Joseph Freifeld, Papp's son-in-law. "He restores my faith in humanity."
Anna Freifeld said, "He was so kind and treated my father was so much compassion, dignity and respect, and we will never be able to repay him for his kindness."
Despite the incident, Turley said he's grateful to have met Papp and shared a conversation with him.
An interstate that links two states together - North Carolina and Tennessee - also connected two strangers in the middle of the night through kindness and a heartwarming meal.
"I'm really glad he didn't get out and start walking. I'm glad he stayed in his vehicle. I'm certainly glad he ran out of gas. He ended up in my area and I was able to find him and help him out," Turley said. "I know he's battling dementia, and it's such a horrible disease. My prayers are with him. I know it's a battle. It's a fight. I was really glad I got to meet him and know him a little bit."
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