Make us your home page
Instagram

Busch Gardens security officer reunites lost items with their owners

John Hale holds a crate of lost sunglasses in his office at Busch Gardens.  He’s a security guard at Busch Gardens in charge of the lost and found. The park finds hundreds of cell phones, sunglasses and other items every year. It also gets some strange stuff, like wheelchairs, a kid’s wagon and even a foot brace.

KATHLEEN FLYNN l Times

John Hale holds a crate of lost sunglasses in his office at Busch Gardens. He’s a security guard at Busch Gardens in charge of the lost and found. The park finds hundreds of cell phones, sunglasses and other items every year. It also gets some strange stuff, like wheelchairs, a kid’s wagon and even a foot brace.

TAMPA — Busch Gardens wants every guest to leave with great memories of their visit.

Lose a cell phone, wallet or favorite pair of sunglasses, and that fun experience fast becomes a headache.

Enter John Hale.

He's a security officer in charge of the park's lost and found. It's a full-time task that's more involved than just putting a bin at the front desk. He juggles thousands of items per year and often makes more than 150 phone calls a day trying to reunite people with stuff they left behind.

Busch Gardens' guest services handled lost and found until about two years ago, when the security department took over. Security director K.C. Newcomb said the task got too big. Everyone carries an expensive phone.

"When we added new coasters, especially Cheetah Hunt, it's a phone eater,'' he said. "In spite of our pleases and signage for guests not to take their stuff on rides, they still end up losing a lot of phones, car keys and sunglasses.''

Newcomb chose Hale for the job because of his background in law enforcement and retail. He worked as a police officer for a small city in southeastern Illinois and as a longtime manager for the former Dexter Shoe Co. in New Hampshire.

Hale, 71, moved to Florida about nine years ago to escape the snow and joined Busch Gardens' security team soon after. He works out of a tiny office near the front entrance packed floor-to-ceiling with things left at the park.

Few items surprise him. The wheelchairs and strollers? They were likely substituted for more expensive ones owned by the park. The leg boot brace? Someone probably took it off to ride the flume and forgot it.

Hale handles about 600 to 700 lost-item reports submitted by guests every month. Each yellow card lists a description and, sometimes, a tale of woe. Hale matches the lost item reports with things found in the park. For anyone who can't retrieve an item in person, he will mail it at no charge.

Yes, shipping to California, Brazil and even Dubai can get expensive, he says. But imagine the goodwill it creates.

Newcomb nominated Hale for the Bern Laxer Awards of Excellence given to employees in the hospitality and tourism industry. He and seven others received the honors at the 2012 National Tourism Week Luncheon in May.

Hale spoke with the Tampa Bay Times recently about the rewards of the job and the interesting finds, which included a plastic bag containing a phone, Busch Gardens Fun Card and $50 bill brought in during the interview.

What's the most commonly lost item?

Phones. On a really busy day, especially a Saturday or Sunday, it's not unusual to get 30 to 75 items, and out of those items you might have 25 or 30 phones. A lot of times I can go into a phone that's not passcode locked and go through the address book. Usually I'll try to call mom or dad or look in the favorites.

Do you get a lot of desperate callers?

They are all desperate. Everybody's emotional about their phone because their whole life is in their phone. I get calls sometimes four or five times a day from people asking if we've found their phone. Unfortunately, I tell them I can't do anything about it until I have a phone in my hand because I don't go out and do the searches. The people at the rides do. When they bring stuff in, then I can go to work.

What's the most interesting item you've found?

I've had a couple sets of false teeth brought in. We reunited one set that was lost on the Montu ride. The pair that we didn't reunite was found in the SheiKra area. The person was eating and he took his teeth out and covered them with a napkin. A seagull came by and grabbed the napkin and flew off with the teeth. As he flew off, it fell and one of the plates hit a guest in the head. Someone brought them to me in a plastic bag.

What about the other pair lost near the Montu rollercoaster?

The guy was just screaming and his teeth came out. (Laughs)

What do you with unclaimed items?

We give them to the police department and they donate them to the R.I.C.H. House (a safe haven for children and families). If it's clothing, shoes or hats that we can't reunite, they launder them and give them to underprivileged kids and other people who need it.

How do people react when you have found their lost item?

Some are really thrilled. They can't believe that we would do something like that for them. We get a lot of cards and letters. But a smile or a tear or a "thank you" is all it takes, and I get a lot of those. When it comes to little kids who lost a stuffed animal or sippy cup, I always try to keep two or three of each color so if they come in and lost a cup, I say, 'I know this is probably not yours, but if you take it home and wash it, you can have it.'' Or if they lost a little bear or monkey, I usually have some to give them.

What's your advice for keeping belongings secure?

We tell everyone to leave their valuables with a nonrider or in a locker. We get people all the time who try to take a picture on a ride with their phone and all of a sudden they scream and it goes flying. If you've got a $600 phone, 50 cents (for a locker) is a small price to pay.

Footnote: After the original interview, the Times called Hale back to ask if he had found the owner of the phone, Fun Card and $50 bill.

I found him that day.

Busch Gardens security officer reunites lost items with their owners 08/19/12 [Last modified: Sunday, August 19, 2012 8:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally

    Business

    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members

    News

    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  3. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion

    Markets

    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  4. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]
  5. Trigaux: Tampa Bay health care leaders wary of getting too far ahead in disruptive times

    Business

    Are attempts to repeal Obamacare dead for the foreseeable future? Might the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now in dire limbo, be revived? Will Medicaid coverage for the most in need be gutted? Can Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and House ever agree to deliver a substitute health care plan that people …

    Natalia Ricabal of Lutz, 12 years old, joined other pediatric cancer patients in Washington in July to urge Congress to protect Medicaid coverage that helped patients like Ricabal fight cancer. She was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2013 and has undergone extensive treatments at BayCare's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. [Courtesy of BayCare]