ONAMIA -- Imagine finding $8,700 in cash strewn along the highway.
Would you keep it or return it?
Two area men recently faced this dilemma as they were traveling along Highway 210 between Crosby and Deerwood two weeks ago.
Peter Travers, lives near Cuyuna
Peter Travers, of Rabbit Lake Township near Cuyuna, and his friend, Mark Solis, Onamia, were driving to Travers' house about 9:20 a.m. July 9 to do some work when they noticed something strange on the opposite side of the road. Travers had just traveled this stretch of road about 10-15 minutes earlier to pick up Solis and it hadn't been there before. It didn't dawn on Travers that it could be money spread along the highway, but Solis realized right away it was a pile of cash.
"When you ain't got money, you notice it," said Solis with a smile.
The two men turned the car around and began picking up piles of $100 bills, spread out about 100 yards. After they finished picking up the money, they noticed another man picking up something on the other side of the road. That man had found $1,500. Travers told the man they were going to turn over the money to Crow Wing County authorities. They took his name and phone number so if someone came forward to claim the cash, they could call him, too.
While both Solis and Travers said they definitely could have used the money, they decided to turn it all in.
"We didn't take a penny of it," said Travers. "I kept telling myself, 'That's not my money. I didn't work for it.'"
"I've found money before, but not quite that much," said Solis. "It's the most amount of money I've ever had in my hands."
The two men began to wonder where all this money came from. They thought it could be drug money, it could have been stolen or perhaps it was somebody's life savings. They also found the check box that the money had been in and there was a name on the box.
Mark Solis, lives in Onamia
They gave the money and information to a deputy with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department, who then called Travers back around 4:30 p.m. the next day, telling him that a couple called to report the money missing. Their names were the same ones listed on the check box that the two men found.
The wife called Travers last Friday, grateful that he found -- and returned -- the money. Travers said they were an older couple. She told him she had been ill, often traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and she and her husband had just sold their home and were moving out of state this week to live closer to family. She was nearly in tears as she told Travers that her husband was sick over the fact that he placed the check box filled with money on top of his car, driving away and losing it. The couple wants to meet Travers and Solis next month when they return, he said.
"People say, 'Are you stupid? You turned in that money?'" said Travers. "Sure, who the heck wouldn't think of keeping it? But it wasn't my money. They were very, very grateful. They didn't think they'd see that money again."
This is far from the first time that Travers has found something and returned it to its rightful owner. Once he found a fully stocked tackle box in the St. Croix River, called the man whose name appeared on the fishing license inside and returned it to him. His boat had overturned in the river, which is why the tacklebox ended up there.
Travers said he once found a pile of papers in the woods when he lived in the Twin Cities. He leafed through the papers and discovered they were life insurance papers, a deed to a house and other important documents. He tracked down the owner, who was grateful to have it returned. The person's house had been broken into and the thief had dumped the unwanted contents of a safe in the woods.
He also once found a woman's purse that had been stolen and turned that in to law enforcement authorities.
And in a bizarre situation, Travers once found a severed human leg floating in the St. Croix River. The leg was that of a man who didn't survive a boat accident, said Travers.
Travers said the found money could have paid a lot of bills for him, his wife and their two sons. He works as a facilities manager at the Ne-Ia-Shing Clinic in Onamia for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Solis, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said he could have repaired his car and paid bills for his significant other and their three children, too. Solis said when he's told people about their find, no one believes him. Fortunately, Travers' wife took a photo of the two men holding the money.
The photograph is proof of their big find alongside Highway 210.
"I know I did the right thing," said Travers.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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