Unemployed Man Returns Lost 12-Carat Diamond Ring

Ring Probably Worth Several Years' Salary, Ring Owner Says

A couple who lost a 12-carat diamond ring at the Eagle County airport last winter is stunned by one man's honesty.

Janis Ward and her husband live part-time in Cordillera, near Vail. They were on their way to the airport to catch a flight last February when Janis took off her diamond ring to put on hand lotion.

In the hustle of catching the flight, Janis didn't realize the ring had dropped out of her lap and onto the ground until she got home to Miami late that evening.

The ring not only had sentimental value -- it was a gift from Roger commemorating their 30th wedding anniversary -- it had real value. It was a 12 carat yellow diamond ring Roger had purchased at an estate sale, the couple said.

The couple contacted their airline, and then the employees at the Eagle County airport.

"The following morning in the midst of a heavy snowstorm, the county’s curbside staff, along with American Airline employees began searching. They walked the ramps, scoured the parking lot and baggage area and dug through plowed snow, looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack," said Eagle County spokeswoman Kris Friel.

It turns out Mark Epple of Minneapolis was catching a flight at the airport a few minutes later with his wife and saw something shiny in the gutter.

He figured the large bauble was costume jewelry, so he dropped it in his pocket and figured he could deal with it later.

When he got a good look at the dented ring, which appeared to have been run over by a car, he realized it was too heavy and shiny to be fake.

So he locked it in the family safe and e-mailed lost and found at the airport saying he believes he found something of value.

He was immediately put in touch with the Wards, who described the ring to him and e-mailed him a picture of the ring they had lost.

A Brinks courier delivered the ring back to the couple, and the original jeweler made some structural repairs. All of the diamonds were still intact.

Roger and Janis were overwhelmed by Epple’s honesty.

"I travel all over the world. This is extraordinary. It never happens," Roger said.

In their phone conversations, Roger learned that Epple, an architect, had recently been laid off of work. The ring, Ward noted, likely has a value equivalent to a couple of years of salary for an architect.

The ring was returned and as a thank you gift, the Wards gave Epple and his family the use of their vacation home in Eagle Valley for a ski trip over the holidays.

Epple refused Ward's initial offer of a reward, saying he knew it was right to return to the Wards what was rightfully theirs. He viewed the incident as a lesson for his three kids. His 11-year-old son, Jacob, had recently had his bike stolen at school, and knew what it felt like to lose a valued possession.

"You try to teach them the right thing. If you return something that belongs to somebody else, you shouldn’t expect to have rewards," Epple said. "I think most people would have done the same thing."