AUGUSTA – The widow of a 77-year-old man who disappeared from his home and was later found dead in a remote part of Maine said Thursday that she is “ecstatic” that a new law could prevent similar tragedies.

Claire Young joined police chiefs, broadcasters and seniors’ advocates as Gov. John Baldacci held a ceremonial bill signing in his office to mark passage of the Silver Alert law, which will speed up the start of searches for missing senior citizens and establish a uniform statewide policy for informing media outlets.

Such a law could have saved William Young, whose body was found in woods 150 miles north of his home in Auburn in April 2009, days after he left to search for a woman who had been reported missing. Young suffered from dementia.

Police have generally waited 24 hours from the time a person is reported missing until they start a search. The Silver Alert law, similar to laws that several other states have and modeled after Amber’s Laws for missing children, puts in place a model policy calling for searches to start immediately.

Claire Young was the catalyst for the law, said Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell. Young said she is pleased that the legislation, which was actually signed into law April 1, was passed so quickly.

“We were very blessed and very lucky that it happened in one year,” she said. “Sometimes for a bill, you can wait for several years.”

Silver Alerts will be issued for impaired seniors who are missing. In addition to notices to the news media, the system can utilize electronic message boards along the Maine Turnpike and other highways.

How broadcasters will receive Silver Alerts will be worked out between police agencies and the stations.

The law has special significance in Maine, which has the nation’s oldest population.

“As Maine’s population continues to age, the incidence of ‘wandering seniors’ can be expected to increase,” said Suzanne Goucher, president of the Maine Association of Broadcasters.

Goucher said broadcasters will become “partners with law enforcement and the people of Maine to help ensure a safe return home for these vulnerable citizens.”

Baldacci said Young had turned a tragedy into something positive.

He called the bill “a wonderful memorial and testament to the love Claire has for her husband, Bill.”