Chuck Stone shakes hands with Aaron Dunnam, a Harker Heights firefighter, as Stone’s neighbor, Angel Cruz, listens Thursday in Harker Heights.

By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS — A man named Angel, medical-alert providers and local first responders changed Chuck and Mary Ann Stone’s outlook on the value of good neighbors.

The Stones were the subjects of intense concern when 79-year-old Chuck went missing the day after Thanksgiving. Somehow, he activated the Lifeline Medical Alert button around his neck, sending emergency assistance workers to the couple’s empty house.

With the help of the couple’s next-door neighbor and employees with the city’s fire and police departments, Chuck was found eating breakfast at Papa’s Cafe. At the time, he was getting ready to pick up Mary Ann, who was at Metroplex Hospital after suffering a near-fatal collapse.

“I want to thank all the people involved in taking care of us while I was in the hospital,” said Mary Ann. “I wasn’t surprised at the response from the city because Chuck had a heart attack earlier this year and emergency workers were right there. This was a false alarm, but they showed they cared.”

Mary Ann, 78, was preparing to leave the hospital when she received an early morning cellphone call from Lifeline. The operator said Chuck had pushed his alert button, but he wasn’t answering the couple’s home phone. An ambulance was on its way to the house.

“I had just finished breakfast and was taking my medicine,” said Mary Ann. “I was hooked up to an IV, heart monitor and oxygen, and I ignored the phone, but the nurse said she’d get it. When I found out who it was, I was scared to death. I started crying and wondering who I could get to check on Chuck.” Immediately, she thought of next-door neighbor, Angel Cruz. Usually, the 34-year-old sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, worked during the day at Fort Hood, but he had taken time off that morning to help his wife get their baby daughter’s vaccinations.

When he got Mary Ann’s call, Cruz ran to the Stones’ home but couldn’t get in. He asked Mary Ann for the pass code to the garage and entered the house, setting off the alarm system.

The sergeant said the telephone rang and a Lifeline employee asked who he was and what he was doing in the house. Cruz tried to explain, but a police car was dispatched.

At that point, the fire department arrived with a truck and an ambulance. After explaining who he was, Cruz opened the house and allowed emergency workers inside to search for Chuck. (A Lifeline button can only be activated on the home premises.)

“I was scared I would find Chuck on the floor,” said Cruz, who accompanied the emergency team into the home. “This was the first time I’ve had to look for a person who might turn out to be a body. We went through the whole house and the backyard, but we couldn’t find him. I was so nervous. It was then I noticed the car wasn’t in the garage.”

Aaron Dunnam, a paramedic/firefighter, said when they saw Chuck’s vehicle was missing, they thought he might have driven himself to the hospital after activating the medical alert button.

Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Gallenstein said Cruz’s ability to get the emergency workers in the house for a search kept them from having to break down the door. The department’s biggest concern was to make sure Chuck was alive and well.

“We really appreciated the neighbor getting involved,” said Gallenstein. “I can’t say enough about his help. Most people don’t know their neighbors anymore. And with family members living far away, there’s no one to keep track of others. It’s nice that the Stones have someone like this to count on.”

After searching the house, Cruz walked outside and came face-to-face with Harker Heights police officer Roxanne Harrill, who began questioning him about Chuck’s missing vehicle. At the same time, Mary Ann called Chuck’s cellphone, he answered and asked ask how she was feeling.

“I recognized the phone number, but then some woman was on the line saying the police were looking for me,” said Chuck. “I didn’t recognize her voice because she had been crying, and I said, ‘Lady, what have I done and who is this?’ She said, ‘This is your wife’ and explained everything to me.”

When Harrill heard that Chuck had been found, she rushed to Papa’s Cafe and burst through the door. Chuck pulled out his identification and said he must have activated his medical alert when he squeezed into his car that morning wearing a bulky jacket.

Cruz was glad to assist his neighbors — and friends — in their time of need, adding that he enjoys spending time with the Stones, including helping them with their Christmas lights.

“I told them from the beginning that I would always be here for them,” said Cruz, who bought his house in 2006 and attends the same church as the Stones.

Chuck, a retired senior aircraft mechanic who worked for Bell Helicopter in Dallas, moved to Harker Heights almost six years ago when he married Mary Ann, a Killeen resident for 46 years.

The concern he saw when people thought he was missing has made him rethink whether they will remain here.

“I was looking for security when I moved here,” said Chuck. “I thought I’d have family here to help me as I got older, but I don’t. I’ve fallen twice since living here and needed help. Angel moving in next door didn’t just happen. I believe in prayer, and he was the answer to mine.”