updated 1/23/2007 6:57:47 PM ET 2007-01-23T23:57:47

A 96-year-old nursing home resident was recovering from hypothermia Tuesday after he was left alone for 18 hours in a church van as temperatures dipped below freezing.

Prostler Samuels was found by a church employee Monday, shivering in a parked van near the Old Town Alexandria church where he had attended Sunday services, Alexandria police said. About an inch of snow fell in the area Sunday, followed by freezing rain.

Samuels remained hospitalized in good condition Tuesday, Lt. James Bartlett said.

Authorities were looking into the actions of the Woodbine Rehabilitation Center and were trying to determine how an employee of Alfred Street Baptist Church had forgotten Samuels, who was in a wheelchair. No charges had been filed, Bartlett said.

Church employees were very upset over what happened, said deacon James Garrett. He said the van's driver, a man in his 50s, had been taking Samuels and others to and from the church services for about a year.

Driver distraught
The driver was "obviously in a distraught state of mind" after the incident, Garrett said.

The routine had been for the van to stop at a nearby McDonald's for hamburgers after church, but that changed Sunday because there were children that the driver wanted to take home first, Garrett said.

"He broke his pattern and has not been able to determine why or how he could have missed" Samuels, Garrett said. Samuels slept a lot, and it was possible he had nodded off in the back of the van, the deacon said.

Richard Heimendinger, the administrator of the nursing home, said the facility did all it could to help find Samuels after realizing he was missing. Samuels usually returned home to Woodbine about 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.

"When that didn't happen, we became concerned and started to look for him," Heimendinger said.

Police said the nursing home called at 8:20 p.m. to report that a resident hadn't returned home.

Apparent miscommunication
Officers were dispatched to the church Sunday night but found all the doors locked. They were called off the case when a staff member at the nursing home told an officer they had located Samuels, said police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch.

But the elderly man wasn't found until the next morning when a church employee heard a telephone message from a Woodbine employee inquiring about Samuels' whereabouts.

The church employee found Samuels inside the van a few moments later, and the church called police.

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