Woman pushes for change: Silver Alerts to include pedestrians on interstate message boards

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — Investigators found the remains of a Rowan County man who was missing for nearly a year, and during that time, his wife drew energy from her grief to inspire change.

Richard Travis disappeared last February after leaving his home to go for a run.

Channel 9 spoke with Travis’ wife, Jean McCoy, shortly after he vanished. She said running was a big part of her husband’s routine, even after he was diagnosed with dementia.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said a hunter found human remains just after midnight on New Year’s Eve in the woods at the end of Willow Creek Drive, near Interstate 85 and Long’s Ferry Road just outside Spencer.

That’s close to where the 66-year-old Travis was last seen. Deputies said Friday dental records confirmed the remains were that of Travis.

State officials wouldn't post Silver Alert information on interstate billboards, and his wife believes that could have made a difference.

Since her husband’s disappearance, she has been fighting for a statewide change.

"I was worried about a week ago,” McCoy said Friday on the phone. “I said, ‘They're not gonna find him. It's nearing the end of this hunting season.’”

The hunter found the remains on the last day of the season.

"It will give me closure,” McCoy said. “Yes, I'm so glad they found them. I'd been hoping they would find them."

A witness saw Travis jogging on I-85 against traffic in February, police said.

State officials issued a Silver Alert for him, but a policy prevented them from putting his name and information on electronic message boards on I-85 because he was not in a vehicle.

“Rick disappeared on Monday,” McCoy said. “We did not get a report that he was on Long Ferry Farm and I-85 until Friday. We didn't understand why he was not on a message board.”

A Silver Alert could have helped in the search, she said.

“It would have triggered a memory and might have helped find him sooner,” McCoy said.

She contacted Gov. Roy Cooper and traffic engineers to push for a change in the Silver Alert policy.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety officials told Channel 9 Friday that they expanded the sign policy to include pedestrians as a result of McCoy’s efforts.