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Good Samaritan returns thousands to woman who dropped envelope in Whitestone

Nino Lercara holds a card that Barbara Fitzpatrick sent him after he found and returned to her an envelope of money. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

A Flushing woman was shocked when she lost an envelope containing nearly $3,000 last month, but she was even more surprised when it was returned to her without a dollar missing.

On July 16, Barbara Fitzpatrick, a 65-year-old retired teacher, went to the bank and withdrew $2,900 and placed it into a white envelope. She was going to use the money to buy a new computer after running some errands.

But while she was walking through the parking lot of the Whitestone Pathmark near Ulmer Street and 31st Avenue, the envelope somehow wormed its way out of her pocket. She noticed the missing cash when she got back in her car to drive home before heading to Best Buy.

“I was thinking how do I replace this? I’m a retired teacher. I don’t have this kind of money,” Fitzpatrick said. “How could I be this careless? I was crazy to put that kind of money in my pocket.”

She stopped back at Mar-Pat Liquors where she had earlier purchased a bottle of wine. The owner checked security camera footage that showed the white envelope peeking out of her pocket. She drove around the parking lot to no avail. Little did she know that just after the envelope fell to the pavement, a man named Nino Lercara was leaving a nearby shop with some newspapers in his arm.

As the 64-year-old retired mason was walking back to his car, he noticed the envelope on the ground and picked it up without thinking, placing it on top of the newspapers he then stacked in the passenger seat.

Curious, he took a peek inside the package on the way home and could not believe what he saw.

“When I opened the envelope, I pulled off on the side. I saw 20s,” he said. “It was $2,900.”

He immediately called his wife of 43 years, Nina, who told a stunned Lercara to turn around and see if he could locate the owner of the envelope.

“I wouldn’t have slept that night if I would have kept the money,” said Lercara, who was born in Sicily but moved to America on his 10th birthday.

And with a twist of the steering wheel, Lercara also turned the tables for Fitzpatrick.

He pulled into the parking lot just as Marco Vukosa, an employee of the liquor store, was on his hands and knees looking in the lot. Fitzpatrick had given up hope and was slowly driving away, giving the ground a final scan.

When Lercara learned that she had lost something, he told Vukosa to chase her down.

“Me, being the 300-pound guy I am, took off down the block,” Vukosa said.

Fitzpatrick could not believe her eyes when she returned to the parking lot and saw Lercara waving the envelope in the air.

“He’s a hero. He is just an amazing guy,” she said. “I was in shock for a few days. I tried to give him money but he wouldn’t accept it.”

Lercara refused cash several times before Fitzpatrick convinced him to give some money to his grandchildren, but the retired Sicilian refused a dime from himself.

He chalks up his honesty to his mother, who took care of Lercara and his nine siblings while working at a factory in Manhattan.

“For me, it comes naturally,” he said.

For now Fitzpatrick, still in disbelief about the incident, decided to give her old computer a little more time.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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