WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - As the owner of a bar, Jimmy Galleece is used to strange events.
“Weird things always happen,” he said while laughing.
An event that happened over the course of a week certainly tops that list.
A woman from New Mexico was visiting a friend from Wilmington, and ended up losing her wallet at Jimmy's at Red Dogs.
Inside her wallet, was an item with a tremendous amount of sentimental value, her wedding band.
When she realized she lost it, she called the bar owners who searched through hours of video surveillance from the bar's 16 cameras.
Galleece watched the woman's purse and never saw a wallet fall out. He saw her go outside, and eventually get into an Uber.
“It ended up being on the bench outside and blending into the bench so I couldn’t see it," Galleece said. "The last thing I thought of was just to watch the bench for like five minutes to see if anybody comes past it and picks it up.”
Those extra five minutes provided a breakthrough in the case of the missing wallet.
“When I did that, this young man came by, he looked inside to make sure nobody was watching, and kind of sat next to it. I just thought it looked shady to begin with. It was our bench, it was right out front, and he’s just looking around a little too much. So I continued to watch and he picked it up and looked inside and stuffed something in his pocked and took off.”
Galleece was able to capture his image from the surveillance footage, and showed it to one of the bartenders, who recognized him from the day before. They posted the image to social media, and were quickly able to identify the teen.
“I couldn’t figure out where he lived. His sister contacted me and said, 'That’s my brother, what did he do?' I told her I might be able to make this right if he contacts me. Sure enough like five minutes later he contacts me and tells me that he did take it. The wedding band was in there but he just took the money, he hadn’t eaten in two days. He threw it off the public docks,” Galleece said.
The teen says he panicked when he realized a ring was in the wallet that his finger prints were now on.
“Obviously I’m thinking, yeah right. You threw a wedding band in an ocean? Right,” Galleece said.
He told the teen to meet him at the public docks where he threw it so they could look for it together, as the teen was now facing a felony charge.
“We go down there and I realize it is just a kid. So we walk the banks and it gave me an opportunity to talk to him about how this all came about and he told me the whole story. I asked him straight up, was the ring in the wallet when you threw it, tell me the truth, because no other person would do that. He said I promise it is,” Galleece said.
Galleece told the teen to meet him at the docks at noon the next day. He had hired divers to try and find the wallet, with the hopes of getting the ring back, and keeping a 17-year-old from living the rest of his life with a felony conviction.
“I find out in the meantime, I talked to his father from Tennessee, he’s been sleeping in the woods behind Wrightsville Beach park, that’s when it was like 30 degrees out. Shivering, just trying to survive,” he said.
As he learned more about the teen, Galleece became even more determined to find the wallet and keep him out of jail.
“It looks like he might end up getting arrested and we’re all pretty stressed out because at this point we like the kid and we don’t think he deserves to be pushed through the system like that," Galleece said.
The divers searched the waterway where the teen claimed he threw the wallet, and came up empty-handed. Galleece begged them to look one more time.
“Out of nowhere the diver came up with the wallet," he said. "I just look at him and say that ring better be in that wallet. The ring was in the wallet, everything he told us was 100 percent truth from the get go, this boy stepped up like a man.”
Galleece called the owner who dropped all charges against the 17-year-old. The Wrightsville Beach Police Department also worked to get the teen into a program where he will have better care. For now, he is living with Galleece and his fiance.
“He got a second chance and everybody learned something about themselves. . .It’s easy for us to say sleeping in our nice warm beds, but I just think it worked out, maybe it was meant to be,” he said.
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