The once-in-a-lifetime weather event that took place Tuesday night in a suburb north of Atlanta is perhaps best described by local police: “cloudy with a chance of cash.”
Gleeful motorists on Interstate 285 in Dunwoody, Georgia, were showered with at least $175,000 when the door of an armored car swung open, authorities say. Viral video captured the aftermath — dozens of opportunistic drivers pulled over and parked in the middle of the road, taking to the streets to collect as much as their fists would allow.
Dunwoody Police said there were no crashes or injuries as a result of the windfall, and authorities were able to recover a few hundred dollars at the scene. Taking the money was technically theft, the department wrote on Facebook, though they could “certainly understand the temptation.”
Many poked fun at the department’s plea to return the cash and “do the right thing.”
“I could have sworn the law was ‘finders keepers’,” one woman wrote in response.
By Wednesday night, however, a handful of people had stepped forward to return a chunk of the money, according to Dunwoody Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Parsons. The five good Samaritans turned in a combined $4,400, highlighted by Randrell Lewis, who Parsons said delivered $2,100 to the department.
Speaking with local NBC affiliate 11 Alive, Lewis said he initially thought the cash showering his car late Tuesday was leaves. When he learned the leaves were actually dollar bills, he “pulled over and started picking up as much as [he] could.”
The man briefly fantasized about how the money could benefit him and his family, he explained. But those dreams were cut short as local news reports elaborated on the potential consequences the drivers who took money could face.
“The news said that it’s theft, it’s stealing, it’s a crime and you must turn it [in] so I have to,” he told 11 Alive.
In Lewis’ case, he may have avoided a felony. Under Georgia law, retrieving money from the highway constitutes “theft of mislaid property,” which makes it a misdemeanor to keep lost items “without first taking reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner.”
Keeping more than $1,500 could lead to a felony charge, Parsons explained. He said the department may take a look at video posted to social media by onlookers to identify the license plates of other vehicles stopped at the scene, but he doubts the quality is good enough to do so.
“We don’t want that to happen. We understand that all of the money is not going to be recovered,” Parsons said. “But those people who do have it, they need to bring it back.”
This isn’t the first time a do-gooder has returned money under similar circumstances. Last year in New Jersey, a man returned $10,000 in cash that he found in a bag lying on the street. Four years prior, a Salvation Army employee in California was rewarded $5,000 after he turned in a bag containing $125,000 left behind by a Brinks truck.
“I started crying and shaking,” the man told the Fresno Bee at the time. “Everything was going through my mind — the good devil/bad devil thing. What to do?”
As the Georgia story gained traction Wednesday, Parsons said the department began to receive a new set of complaints: Dozens of drivers had taken to the interstate, scouring the area for spare dollars that hadn’t yet been collected while “causing huge traffic jams on the perimeter.”
“They were going into the woods, jumping over the walls, doing everything they can to find the money,” Parsons said with a chuckle, adding there wasn’t any left. “Officers told me they saw an elderly woman climb over the wall in search of money.”
Lewis, who did not return messages requesting comment, proudly shared the police department’s photo of him returning the money on his Facebook page. In the replies, many of his friends and family members expressed pride in his decision.
Others were perplexed as to why he didn’t keep at least some of the cash.
“[You’re] better than me,” one person wrote.