LINCOLN — Not since Cinderella has a woman been so relieved to see her Coach.
In this real-life story, the Coach was a tony handbag forgotten by its owner at an Interstate 80 rest stop in eastern Iowa.
Flora Haslett, another motorist, found the black leather purse Dec. 19 on the floor of a restroom stall. The 67-year-old Chicago woman was on her way to Lincoln, trying to outrun a blizzard bearing down on the Midlands. So she stashed the purse in her car's trunk and headed west.
The next morning, Haslett dropped off the handbag at the Lincoln Police Department, about 300 miles from where she had found it.
She looked inside the purse once, she said, long enough to see that it belonged to an Audrey Sheldon of Hebron, Ky.
“I've tried all my life to be honest,” Haslett said.
Staff in the department's property and evidence unit were at first puzzled about why a purse found in eastern Iowa belonging to a woman in Kentucky was dropped in their laps in Lincoln.
Nonetheless, evidence technician Toby Ryan searched the contents, but came up with no phone numbers except for one belonging to a doctor's office. She called the office, explained the dilemma and was able to get a cellphone number.
Before long she had Sheldon on the phone. The evidence technician explained that her purse was in Lincoln.
The line went silent for several seconds.
“She was, like, 'You're kidding me. I'm in Lincoln, Neb.,” Ryan recalled.
The military spouse had been driving with her three young daughters from Kentucky to Oregon, where they planned to spend Christmas with her mother. The blizzard had left them stranded in an I-80 motel north of downtown.
Without cash or credit cards, her car was running on fumes. So rather than asking her to find the Police Headquarters, Sgt. Grant Richards delivered the purse.
“She was ecstatic,” he said. “The girls were even more happy, because they knew it meant they were going to make it to Grandma's for Christmas.”
The mother told the sergeant her plan was to stop in York, Neb., for the night, but she pulled into Lincoln to refuel. That's when she discovered her predicament.
She knew where she had left the purse, so she called a police station near the Iowa rest stop and asked them to look. But with the storm in full force by then, the department couldn't spare an officer to check.
Then she called her mother, who provided a credit card number so the family could spend the night in Lincoln.
After getting the purse back, she and the kids spent one more night in Lincoln, waiting for I-80 to reopen.
The Coach, by the way, wasn't missing a cent.
“Including four lottery tickets,” Richards said. “I told Audrey, 'You've got to check those tickets — they've got to be magic.'”
Messages left by a reporter with Sheldon were not returned.
But Haslett got a call from the extremely grateful purse owner on Dec. 20. “She told me I was a wonderful person,” she said.
Haslett gave a long, hearty laugh when asked if she found it rewarding to play the role of fairy godmother.
“I get all my reward from God,” she said. “I'm just happy she got her purse.”
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