Mission Beach’s Debbie Roth was fixing dinner Sept. 29 when she took her wedding ring off to prepare some potatoes. When finished, she washed up, dried her hands with a paper towel and tossed it in the trash before returning to dinner.
She doesn’t know how, but somehow her ring wound up in the paper towel and was put outside her Ocean Front house near Zanzibar Court in a garbage bag later that evening for the morning trash pickup.
By the time Roth realized she had accidentally thrown out her wedding ring, the city trash truck has already made its regular 7 a.m. Tuesday pickup.
“My husband kept saying, ‘We’ll find it, honey. It’s around here somewhere,’” she said.
It isn’t hard to imagine the sinking feeling after realizing something with such sentimental value is probably gone forever, but Roth wasn’t about to give up. With the clock ticking, she knew her chances were slim of keeping her ring from being bulldozed into the Miramar Landfill.
“When you don’t have your ring on, you almost feel naked. A part of me was missing and I was determined to get it back,” she said.
While Roth called the city hoping there was a chance of recovering her garbage bags, Hortensia Galvez, an automation driver with the Environmental Services Department, was continuing on her Mission Beach route.
Starting at Hooters and working her way south, Roth’s house is one of her first resident stops. Normally Galvez’s truck hits capacity before she crosses Mission Boulevard for her eastside pickups, requiring her to empty her truck at the landfill before resuming with her northbound collections.
“The trash was running light that day, so I thought I would continue on,” Galvez said. “I was working back towards San Jose Court, and before I reached the Catamaran, I got a call from a supervisor asking if I’ve been to the landfill. When I told him no, he said, ‘Good. Someone has lost their ring.’”
Galvez said if it had been summertime, when Mission Beach crowds create more waste, Roth wouldn’t have had a chance. Her wedding band would have been buried with the other 1.4 million tons of garbage dumped at the landfill every year.
“I knew it was in the truck,” she said.
Roth and her husband met Galvez at the landfill prepared to dig through a week’s worth of Mission Beach’s garbage if they had to, but her luck continued.
“As soon as she told me where she lived, I could tell her where her trash is going to be,” Galvez said. “I knew it would be within a couple of feet from the back.”
Galvez emptied about half of her truck, and after about 10 to 15 minutes of searching, they found the distinctive white trash compactor bags with the ring.
“We found out later that our neighbor put out some very large boxes — they were shower door boxes — that Hortensia picked up three doors down from us. So she said, ‘I know exactly where your trash is. It’s in the back of the truck near these boxes.’ So when Hortensia dumped the truck, she dumped a little at a time until we got to those boxes. It still was a lot to go through, but it was minimal compared to what it could have been,” Roth said.
Afraid they would lose the ring again by tearing open the bags at the landfill, Roth and her husband took the sealed trash bags back to Mission Beach to retrieve the ring.
“The city employees just jumped through hoops and it was neat to know that there are people out there that care and are compassionate about my mistake,” she said. “I don’t know if the city had any obligation to help me, but they did.”
Considering the odds of ever seeing her ring again, Roth said she never gave up.
“Even if I didn’t find it, I had to try. I couldn’t give up,” Roth said. “I reacted as soon I realized it was gone, and because Hortensia was there was less trash than normal, we found it. It was meant to be.”
Galvez said this is the first time in her 27 years working for Environmental Services she’s helped recover valuables accidentally tossed out with the trash, but it’s not uncommon. Galvez said a driver helped another Mission Beach resident recover a sizable amount of cash that ended up in the trash.
“A neighbor a couple of houses down from Debbie owned a restaurant and he put his money on top of his trash and was thrown out, and we were able to find it,” she said. “If you can catch us, you can get your items back.”