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Good Samaritan returns thousands of dollars found lying in Tampa road

TAMPA — It was just lying there. In the middle of the street.

The black briefcase filled with personal documents and $8,000 went virtually unnoticed for nearly an hour Sunday afternoon.

Cars on U.S. 301 drove over it, leaving tire marks on the leather. Others swerved to avoid it.

Frank Colla pulled over to the side of the road and picked it up.

He thought it might be someone's laptop computer. What he found instead were some papers, a telegram and dozens of $100 bills.

Colla knew immediately: He had to give it back.

"I couldn't convince myself to keep it," he said. "I knew somebody somewhere was really going to miss this, and I thought, 'You have to do the right thing.' "

So, he did.

After dropping his grandchildren back at home and scouring the papers inside the bag for clues, Colla began his quest to find the rightful owner.

"I was a little nervous at first, because I didn't know who I might find," he said. "I mean, who carries around that kind of money?"

First, he drove to an address listed on one of the documents. No one was home. Then he found a phone number.

A woman answered. She was frantic.

Distracted by car seats and diapers, her husband had placed the bag on top of their car as the couple and their three small children left 301 Family Restaurant early Sunday.

Then, they drove off. The bag flew off the back of their car. They didn't realize it was gone until they got home.

"She was so excited when I told her I found it," Colla said. "Her husband had been out retracing their steps."

The woman offered no reward, and Colla didn't ask for one.

She declined to comment for this story out of privacy concerns, but expressed sincere gratitude toward the stranger who saved the day.

A retired UPS worker, Colla works part time as a security guard in Hillsborough County Traffic Court.

For years, he was a member of the reserves for the Florida Highway Patrol and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Ethics and honesty have always been professional requirements, Colla said.

"He's an extremely honest man," said Bill Foster, a Traffic Court hearing officer who was "stunned" when he heard Colla's story.

"He probably makes $10 an hour — if that," Foster said. "And for someone, anyone, to find that kind of money and give it back? That's rare."

Marissa Lang can be reached at or (813) 226-3386.