Nova Scotia man's disappearance triggers Florida search
Richard Paquet, 74, recently travelled to the state with his wife in their van
The disappearance of a 74-year-old Nova Scotia man in Florida remained unexplained Thursday despite a large search effort in Hernando County, roughly 80 kilometres north of Tampa on the state's Gulf Coast.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said Richard Paquet was reported missing Wednesday at 7:45 a.m. local time.
Paquet and his wife recently drove to Florida from Nova Scotia in their silver-grey van.
Around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, a resident of the seaside community of Hernando Beach called police to report a strange van parked in her driveway.
"When she went to look in the vehicle, there was an older female in the vehicle. And I think she was still sleeping. And she woke up when the resident came out and asked her, 'What are you doing in my driveway?'" said Denise Moloney, public affairs officer with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
The couple's dog was still in the van, but Paquet was gone and his wallet and cellphone left behind.
Moloney said the couple had backed into the driveway sometime around midnight.
"The houses in Hernando Beach are on stilts because of hurricanes," Moloney said. "So when they pulled in there the night before, nobody knew they were there."
Moloney said canals run through the neighbourhood, with most homes backing onto the deep waterways.
Searching by land, water and air
"We've been searching tirelessly here ... The minute the deputy got on the scene, the search started. And we kept adding to that and adding to that," Moloney said.
"We had our deputies on foot in the area, deputies driving the area. We had them using drones. We had our helicopter out there ... The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had a plane up to assist us."
But as of Thursday, the search had proved fruitless.
Tracking dogs, including bloodhounds, were unable to pick up a trail. Calls to local hotels and hospitals came up negative.
Police have been using side-scanning sonar to sweep the canals underwater.
"It's a deep canal. And the driveway they parked in, their backyard is the canal. And being that we've searched all the land and haven't found them, we're searching the water in hopes that he didn't fall in the water," Moloney said.
Moloney said there are still questions about what led up to Paquet's disappearance.
Moloney said the couple had two brief interactions with police the day before he disappeared.
On Tuesday, they were involved in a minor car accident in Brooksville, a city of just over 7,000 people.
The couple was unhurt and soon drove away.
Then around 10 p.m., officers got a call about a reckless driver in the parking lot of a restaurant and bar in Hernando Beach, about a half-hour drive from Brooksville.
The driver turned out to be Paquet, who had been speeding in the lot, and had come close to colliding with pedestrians and another vehicle.
But since the pair seemed fine and posed no further risk, the officers let them go.
"The deputies let them go because we don't have any right to hold them if they're not doing anything wrong or if they're not a danger to themselves or others," she said.
Family 'dumbfounded' by disappearance
Moloney said the couple's children confirmed that while their mother has confusion, Paquet was healthy when he left Nova Scotia. They were "a little bit dumbfounded" by Paquet's actions, said Moloney.
"They advised us that he doesn't have any medical or mental health issues," she said.
Moloney said officials are extremely concerned because missing people are usually found in a few hours in their small community.
She said Paquet's wife has since connected with friends who live about an hour from Brooksville and she is staying with them as the search continues.