Berkeley man missing for 20 days was ‘mystery’ patient at Alta Bates hospital

David Boutelle, a 66-year-old Berkeley man who has been missing since Jan. 4, was identified Friday as a mystery patient who has been in Alta Bates Summit Medical Center since Jan. 7.

A hospital social worker who had been trying to locate the patient’s family saw the Jan. 21 article on Berkeleyside about his disappearance, which prompted her to call Boutelle’s nephew, Joey Boutelle, according to Joey’s wife, Irau Brooks. The social worker had “an inkling” that her unidentified patient might be Joey Boutelle’s uncle.

Joey Boutelle and Brooks went by Alta Bates on Thursday night but, for privacy and other reasons, were not allowed to see the patient. The social worker called the family back Friday and Joey Boutelle went into the patient’s hospital room around noon. As soon as he walked in, Boutelle gave his nephew a smile.

“I recognized him right away,” said Boutelle.

Berkeley detectives had called Alta Bates during their investigation to see if Boutelle was there, but there was no patient by that name. Boutelle had told hospital officials he was called “David Robert,” which are his first and middle names.

“He managed to tell them just two names,” said Brooks.

The family is relieved to have found Boutelle, who inexplicably wandered away from his home Jan. 4. He and his brother, Jimmy, who lives in the same apartment complex on Durant Avenue, were getting ready to go to the grocery store. Jimmy ran up to his apartment to get something, and when he came back downstairs David was gone.

In the previous few months, Boutelle, an apartment manager, had been increasingly forgetful and confused. He has stopped driving his new Toyota RAV4 because he got lost too easily, said Lynette Boutelle, a relative who has been leading the social media campaign to find her former uncle-in-law.

Doctors at Alta Bates diagnosed Boutelle with a brain infection, which may explain his disorientation, said Joey Boutelle. He is being treated for the infection now.

“I am relieved,” said Joey Boutelle, who has been handing flyers out around Berkeley for the past 10 days. He has visited homeless encampments and gone any place a tip led him.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Brooks on a telephone call with Berkeleyside. Boutelle’s brother, who was with her in a car, yelled out an affirmation.

The family is grateful to know Boutelle is safe and that he only spent three days and nights on the street, she said. They still don’t know what happened on those three days.

After flyers were distributed and the Berkeleyside article was published, and the story was broadcast on local television stations, two women contacted Joey Boutelle to say they had seen his uncle. One woman said he had been sleeping in her bushes. They knew he was ill and called an ambulance, Joey Boutelle said.

Update Jan. 25: Rachel Baker contacted Berkeleyside by email after this article was published to say she was one of the women who helped Boutelle — and to express dismay about how Berkeley police handled the case.

“I helped David on January 6 when I found him on my porch,” Baker wrote. “I spent about 45 minutes with him and helped him get some clothes on. He appeared to be chronically homeless when I met him. When the first Nixel alert went out, I contacted the Berkeley Police to inform them that he was on my porch only a week earlier, I was dismissed by the dispatcher, who informed me that David had already been found.

In fact, that was not true. Another week went by and then I saw your second article, which allowed me to contact the family directly.

I think it’s a travesty that the Berkeley Police failed to inform the family or follow up on my January 6 interaction with David.

How hard can it be to ask the local hospital if they have a man about his age and description whose first name is David and who is disoriented? They could have just shown the hospital his photo even.”

Update Jan. 31: Berkeleyside reached out to the police department to ask about its investigation into Boutelle’s disappearance and to inquire about its interaction with Alta Bates. We also asked about Baker’s contention that a dispatcher told her Boutelle had been found when he hadn’t. Officer Byron White, the public information officer for the department, sent the following emails:

“I can tell you that in addition to searching the area for Mr. Boutelle, officers contacted several agencies about his whereabouts, made public notifications through Nixle and social media, requested that the County alert medical agencies through the County’s Reddinet system and contacted Alta Bates Hospital on more than one occasion,” wrote White.

Regarding the interaction with the dispatcher:

“We are looking into that situation as well,” wrote White.  “If mistakes were made, we will put in place protocols to ensure they do not happen again.

As with any police investigation, we are looking into ways where we can improve the process for the future.”

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.