When he discovered that his wife's purse containing more than $1,200 had fallen out of his truck, Won Y. Cho did not expect to get the money back.
Cho, a Reseda resident, thought someone might send back the credit cards, but not the cash. His expectation was based on experience: 10 years earlier, he had found someone else's wallet and had kept the money. And that was only $50.
When Paul Jacob's car nearly ran over the pocketbook in Reseda, and he went back to pick it up, his first instinct was much the same that Cho's had been a decade earlier.
"I thought maybe Santa Claus had dropped something into my lap," said Jacob, a Simi Valley resident. "I sure could have used that money horribly."
Just a few days before, Jacob said, he had told his five children, ages 6 to 14, "not to make a big Christmas list this year and not to expect a lot of things."
But the temptation gave way to another thought.
Listens to Conscience
"I thought my conscience might be a little more important than my kids' Christmas," Jacob said.
And so on Sunday night Jacob wound up driving over to Cho's home to deliver a gift of sorts--the pocketbook and cash, intact.
Said Cho of his new-found friend: "There aren't many people like him in the world. This man is something special."
The series of events began about 9:30 p.m. Sunday when Cho, 31, and his wife Sun K. Cho, 32, were driving in their pickup from Reseda to Northridge.
Sun Cho balanced their two playful children, ages 3 and 5, on her knees. Also on her lap was the purse, with money the couple had set aside to buy jewelry and belts for their Van Nuys fashion accessories shop.
As the truck turned from Rinaldi Street onto Reseda Boulevard, Michael, the 3-year-old, reached out and opened the passenger side door, Won Cho said. When Sun Cho leaned over to shut it, her purse slipped out.
Not Aware of Loss
The Chos were not aware of the loss, however, until they reached their destination. They rushed back to the intersection, but the purse was gone.
"We figured somebody had picked it up," Won Cho said. "I blamed my wife and she blamed me."
The couple returned home, and "my wife cried," Cho said. "I didn't cry, but I was mad."
Jacob, 40, was driving home on Reseda Boulevard when he noticed a gray rectangular handbag on the street. He did not stop at first, continuing on to the Simi Valley Freeway. Then at the next exit, he got off.
"This little voice in my head just kept telling me to turn around and go back and take another look," he recalled.
Walking with a crutch, necessitated by the loss of one leg because of a birth defect, he picked up the purse.
Jacob, a design engineer at Eaton Information Management Systems Division in Westlake Village, said the thought of ruining another family's Christmas quickly overwhelmed the temptation to take the money.
He checked the identification in the purse, went to a pay phone and called Cho. Then he went right over to Cho's house.
"The whole family was waiting out in the front yard, grinning from ear to ear," Jacob said. "When I saw those two cute little black-haired kids giggling and squirming and smiling, I knew I was doing the right thing."
As a reward, the Chos gave Jacob $100. They also gave him a leather wallet that Sun had bought on a recent trip to Korea, and a belt buckle with the insignia of the 1988 Olympics, which will be held in Seoul.
"How many people would return that amount of cash? Probably one out of a thousand," Won Cho said.
Jacob had to agree.
"There are people in this world who will think I'm a raving idiot. . . . It's a weird feeling; you feel like you're on a lonely path," Jacob said. "I had a chance to take the smooth ride and I didn't."