SKOWHEGAN — It was already dark and getting late that September night when Skowhegan police Officer Alex Burns got a radio call about an older woman who had gotten lost driving through central Maine from upstate New York to visit a friend Down East.

“It was 10 or 11 at night and we got a call that there was an elderly woman going up to houses, knocking on doors on River Road in Norridgewock, heading into Skowhegan,” Burns said. “She wasn’t quite sure where she was and didn’t really know what town she was in.”

Over the next few hours Burns and workers overnight at the Cumberland Farms store in Skowhegan helped her with her maps, making phone calls to her friend in Machias, and finally directing her to the Walmart parking lot, where she slept in her car until daybreak.

“Officer Burns sat with her while she took a nap and called her as she continued her travels to see her friend,” Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam said.

Grateful for the personal attention, Carol Laughlin, of Lewis, New York, sent a handwritten letter to the Morning Sentinel’s Skowhegan office, expressing her “sincere thanks and gratitude to the kind people in Skowhegan” who helped her that night.

She enclosed the story about what happened that night in her letter and said it was OK to edit the letter if it was to be printed. She included a self-addressed, stamped envelope to receive a copy.

“My name is Carol, I am 82 years old and live in Northern New York, close to the Canadian border,” Laughlin wrote in the letter to the newspaper. “Several weeks ago I embarked on a trip to Maine, all by myself, driving to visit a long-time friend in Machias, Maine. Crossing Lake Champlain via ferry, I drove, and drove, and drove, across Vermont and New Hampshire, reaching Maine in the dark.”

But Laughlin apparently zigged when she should have zagged as she hit Norridgewock on U.S. Route 2 and ended up on River Road, on the opposite side of the Kennebec River.

Figuring that she was lost, Laughlin said she resolved that the next house she saw with the lights on she would stop and ask directions back onto U.S. 2.

Unfortunately, she wrote, the house she chose was home to “early-to-bed folks.”

She said she “woke up a sleeping man” who directed her to keep going along River Road into Skowhegan until she saw the Cumberland Farms store, which she did.

Burns, meanwhile, said he waited for her to drive by and finally found her at Cumberland Farms.

“When I went in, she was talking to somebody to try and get directions,” Burns said. “She was going the right direction. She just thought it was taking too long.”

Burns said it appeared that Laughlin had made her way to Norridgewock, and rather than going straight, she took a left over the Cpl. Eugene Cole Memorial Bridge and ended up on River Road. By then, he said, it was 11:30 p.m. and she couldn’t find her friend’s phone number, so he contacted the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to have them make contact with the friend in Machias.

“She slept in her car in the Walmart parking lot and we went up every couple hours to check on her,” Burns said. “Her friend had called back a few times because (Laughlin’s) phone was not working, so we kept bringing a phone up for her so she could speak with her friend. She said thanks for the help and was appreciative that we had checked on her throughout the night because she was all by herself.”

A Somerset County sheriff’s deputy, Warren Ackerman, also showed up to help in case help was needed.

In her letter, Laughlin said she believes the sleeping man that she had awakened at his home on River Road had made the initial call to the communications center. She said she also thought the employees at Cumberland Farms had called as well.

“I’m sorry, good folks, I don’t know your names, but you should recognize yourselves from this account,” she wrote in the letter to the Morning Sentinel. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your concern, help, and fellow feeling for a stranger from New York. Skowhegan will always be in my fondest memories because of you.”

Bucknam said he is sending Laughlin a Skowhegan police baseball cap and department patch.

“That’s exactly what we do here,” Bucknam said of Burns. “What his actions were fell right into our mission and vision statement here, which is taking care of our community and the citizens and being there when they need us the most.”

A copy of this story will be sent to Laughlin, as she has requested.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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