Imagine you’re walking through the mall parking lot and you find a wallet. You open it up and it’s stuffed with $2,000. Also in that wallet is the driver’s license of the owner, with his address clearly printed on it. What would you do?
A 19-year-old Fairfield man faced a similar scenario and is now in court over it. Daniel W. Holochuck and a friend allegedly found an envelope with $1,900 in cash in Costco’s food court. The envelope, lost by a clerk, contained a transaction receipt. Since Holochuck and his friend didn’t turn in the envelope, Holochuck has been charged with a felony under an 1872 law requiring people to turn in found property when one has knowledge or means of inquiry to the owner.
All I know of the case is what I’ve read, but setting aside the Holochuck case, what would you do in this instance? Glen James, a homeless man in Boston, recently found a backpack in a mall parking lot containing cash and traveler’s checks worth $42,000 and quickly turned it in to police. An online fundraiser for the good Samaritan has reportedly raised $50,000.
Back in February, a woman accidentally dropped her diamond ring into a panhandler’s cup in Missouri. The homeless man returned the ring and the woman raised $190,000 for him online. We marvel when we read about these stories of people turning in large sums of money and returning property, but what would we do?
I think most people turn in found property because we were raised to do it. Almost everyone knows what it feels like to lose something of value. When I was a teen, my bicycle was stolen from Kmart. Weeks later, Fairfield police called me to tell me they’d recovered my bike. I don’t know how they found it, but it was such a joy to have it back.
Several years ago, my granddaughter Lauryn found an iPod on the ground at her school. She wanted to keep it. I scrolled through it and found the name of the girl who owned it. I asked Lauryn if she’d lost it, wouldn’t she want whoever found it to turn it in? She said yes, and the next day she took it back to school and the little girl got her iPod back.
Having a law on the books that compels one to be a good Samaritan under penalty of jail may seem excessive, but keeping property one knows to be someone else’s is theft. Someone losing something doesn’t automatically gift the finder with being able to keep it.
But I must confess that I’ve committed this crime. In the eighth grade at Grange Intermediate School in Mr. Cote’s art class, I got in trouble and had to stay after class to clean the room. Before class let out, a buddy, Dave Renfro, was clowning me for having to stay and clean. Class let out for lunch and as I was sweeping up I found a $5 bill on the floor. A few minutes later, Dave came back into the room saying he’d lost five bucks. I told him I hadn’t seen it. (I’m sorry, Dave. I was being spiteful and I owe you five bucks. Actually, adjusting for inflation, I owe you $14.19.)
Perhaps instead of actually going to court over cases like this, it would be best if restitution could be made and leave it at that.
But the moral is if you find a wallet, purse or my iPad and the owner’s identification is right there in front of you, don’t let an 1872 law compel you to do the right thing. Just do it. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at email@example.com.