OCEAN CITY — Several irreplaceable losses were avoided this week thanks to one man and his metal detector.
Kristine Carney, 35, of New York City was just beginning her annual summer vacation in Ocean City Sunday when she took off her diamond wedding band and engagement ring to apply sunscreen outside her vacation rental at Pennlyn Place.
“My family has been coming here for years. They brought me as a baby and growing up now I bring my kids here. We do one week every summer,” Carney said, adding that they arrived late on Saturday, Aug. 15. “Sunday was our first day to go to the beach and we were out front on the sidewalk getting ready and I wanted to spray my arms and my hands with sunscreen. I hate getting that filmy sunscreen on my ring.”
So she removed the rings, which are soldered together, and placed them on her bag, which she said was sitting atop her stroller.
Carney said that after spraying herself with sunscreen, she became distracted by her children – a son, 5, and 14-month-old twin daughters – and forgot to put the ring back on.
It was not until she and her family arrived at the beach and set up their blankets and umbrellas that she realized her mistake and began frantically searching for the rings.
After retracing her steps several times, she finally told her parents what she had done.
“I didn’t want to tell anyone,” Carney said.
That evening, she called her husband of 10 years, who had returned to New York for business, to tell him.
“He was very upset about it,” she said.
Carney also notified the lifeguards and the police, as well as her insurance company, but she didn’t give up hope.
Realizing that she would likely need a metal detector, Carney approached a man on the beach Tuesday, Aug. 18 to ask if he could help her.
“He said ‘no problem,’” she said. “This complete stranger, I had no idea who he is, he spent an hour and a half Tuesday evening looking and got up 6 a.m.
“Would you believe on that Wednesday morning he found my ring in about four inches of sand?” Carney said, tearing up.
That man was Marc Mercier of Manchester, NH, who was staying on Third Street with his fiancée, Dineen DePaolo, and her family.
Mercier, vice president of operations for Maritime Program Group, an insurance company headquartered in Westbrook, Conn., only recently took an interest metal detecting.
At 53, he was an avid golfer for many years before deciding to look for a new hobby.
“I just really got sick and tired of golf, so on the Internet I saw a metal detector and it just brought me back to childhood,” he said. “I love the challenge. I love being able to do something that’s kind of ... not impossible, but I just love it when people say I can’t do something. It’s always been kind of about the hunt.”
This is his second summer vacationing in Ocean City.
“Dineen’s uncle has been coming here for 40 years with his kids,” Mercier said. “We tried it last year and we absolutely loved it, so now it’s going to be an annual thing for our family.
“There’s so much to do,” he said, between the bay, the boardwalk and the beach, in addition to shopping and dining. “It’s so family-oriented.”
Since coming to the beach on Saturday, Mercier said he has found seven rings and two earrings, and has been able to return five of the rings.
“Out of those five, four of them are really people who had come up to me and asked for help,” he said.
The fifth is a 1969 Villanova class ring belonging to Tom Cugini of Chester County, Pa., which Mercier found on his own, in 8 inches of sand. He was able to contact Cugini after reaching out to Villanova University’s records department. Cugini, who has been coming to the beach in Ocean City for 40 years, called Mercier back after receiving a message about the lost item.
“It was fantastic. It was like a miracle because I truly thought I lost it in the surf while I was in the ocean. I thought there’s just no way,” Cugini said Friday, Aug. 21. “I can’t believe it.”
He said he lost the ring when he was on vacation here Aug. 1-8.
“I was going to get another one. I just can’t believe it. When I heard his message, I said ‘This is crazy.’”
Cugini will be picking up the ring next weekend from Mercier’s family member, who is staying in Ocean City.
On Thursday, Aug. 20, Mercier found two separate platinum rings for separate people who both approached him. He said he always looks for the jewelry at times when the beach is mostly empty, coming early in the morning or in the early evening.
“The beach is more for the enjoyment of kids, so I always make sure I stay out of their way,” he said.
Mercier said he often tells people who are looking for missing items to consider it “to be in a safe or vault until, hopefully, we can find it.” He said the items usually sink pretty quickly into the sand where it was dropped.
As for his family, Mercier says they don’t mind the time he spends on his new hobby.
“That’s one of the things we love about Ocean City is there are so many different things and not everyone likes to do the same things,” he said. “The tides work perfectly this week for me, so I can get up in the morning. I’m not one to lay out in the sun. I’ve got to be moving.”
Mercier said he really enjoys helping people find their missing items.
“It’s funny, when I first started last year, my first time I ever walked down the beach someone came up to me as soon as I stepped on the beach,” looking for a missing item, he said. “I was kind of irritated because I just wanted to be by myself. And I found it. The excitement that the woman and her husband showed just kind of sparked something in me.
“It’s so neat to be able to find something and return it to the person who thought they would never see it again,” he said. “It’s so neat to see the expressions of people. It’s so rewarding.”
“This man is just a complete saint,” Carney said.