Family furious after dementia patient walks away from Dade City nursing home, winds up in jail on decade-old warrant

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The family of a 74-year-old dementia patient was shocked to find out she ended up in the Pasco County Jail after she walked away from her Dade City nursing home last week.

It turns out police picked up Gwen Donahue on an outstanding warrant from nearly a decade ago.

“When she wakes up in the morning, she doesn’t know where she is,” her daughter Meghan Donahue said. “She probably thinks she’s done something wrong and we’ve abandoned her.”

It’s a distressing notion for Donahue, who says her mother is in poor physical and mental health and doesn’t pose a risk to the public.

Donahue explains that her mother wandered off from her Dade City nursing home last Wednesday. She apparently made it three miles away before Dade City officers found her.

But they also found a 2011 arrest warrant out of Sumter County when they ran her name, and later booked her into the county jail.

Meghan Donahue called the warrant, which she had no knowledge of, a “huge shock.”

“My mom has no priors, she’s just this little old Catholic lady,” she said. “My mom shouldn’t have to spend another minute there.”

Donahue tells us the warrant is from an old DUI. Her mother paid the fines and completed the community service but apparently overlooked a two-hour online course. Because she was booked without bond, she cannot be released until a judge signs off on the release.

8 On Your Side reached out to both the Dade City Police Department and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office who both described their hands as tied. It would have been illegal for the Dade City officers to ignore the warrant. Pasco detention officers don’t have the power to get inmates out.

“Somebody should be looking out for the people that get caught up in the net and shouldn’t be there,” Donahue said.

After nearly a week of calling authorities in both Pasco and Sumter counties, a Sumter county judge finally signed a release order Monday afternoon, according to Meghan Donahue. Her mother should be released at some point Tuesday night.

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