NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (AP) — Chris Young is the water world version of St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things.
The San Antonio Express-News reports the diver for hire regularly patrols the Comal, Guadalupe and San Marcos rivers on his own in search of phones, wedding rings, sunglasses and other valuables accidentally dropped into the murky drink by river tubers.
Up to four times a week for four to five hours a day during tubing season, Young dons a wetsuit, tanks and mask and dives in hunting for sunken treasures. He posts information about his finds on his Facebook page Comal, Guadalupe, & San Marcos River Lost & Found, a sort of online lost and found, in the hope the rightful owner will come forward to claim the item — and perhaps reward him with whatever they think is fair.
"It's my job and my hobby," he said. "I love diving and helping people. I know that if I dropped a $1,000 phone in the water, I'd want to throw on a pair of goggles and dive in to try and find it."
He also works on assignment. People contact him on Facebook after their phone slips through their wet fingers, a necklace breaks and falls into the cold water, or their inner tube flips and all their worldly possessions fly overboard.
He charges a finder's fee of $100, but only if he finds what he's looking for. If he comes up empty, there's no charge.
Greg Jones, a Comal County Sheriff's Department who patrols the river for the Water Oriented Recreation District, said he often refers distraught tubers to Young.
"On a busy day we might get 30 to 50 tubers come to us for help after they've lost something," he said. "I often tell them to contact Chris. I've actually handed people my phone so they can post on his Facebook page asking for help."
Young, 38, grew up in Salado and now lives in New Braunfels. He started scuba diving in 2008, getting his Professional Association of Diving Instructors open water diving certification in 2010. To date, he confines his diving to Texas lakes and rivers but said he hopes eventually to become a PADI dive master and eventually an instructor.
When he's not diving, he's held a variety of jobs, including working for the Texas Department of Transportation, as a condo maintenance man and as a welder. He also helps out his family by doing odd jobs on their ranch in East Texas.
"I'm kind of a jack of all trades," he said.
Dakota Bobbitt was swimming in the Guadalupe recently when he reached to grab a rock to steady himself, and his wedding ring slid off his finger.
"We searched for about two hours without finding it, even though I was wearing goggles," he said. Eventually it started raining, so they called off the search.
"I was more upset than Haley was," he said of his wife. "We just got married in August, and it was a custom-made ring."
After a friend found Young's Facebook page, they arranged to meet at the site of the mishap.
"I prefer to have people there when I'm looking for lost things," said Young, who has been treasure diving for almost 10 years now. "That way they can't say I found it but didn't tell them."
According to Bobbitt, it took 30 minutes for Young to spot the ring, which was in 2 to 3 feet of water. He charged the couple his usual fee of $100.
While jobs like the Bobbitts' keep him plenty busy, it's Young's self-directed searches that can prove the most impactful.
Tyler Blocker lost his iPhone while floating through the City Tube Chute on the Comal River during a Fourth of July family reunion. Blocker, a profoundly deaf special education teacher who relies on his phone's sound-amplifying technology, was devastated.
Fortunately, the case it was in really was waterproof, so when Young pulled it from the river bottom, it still powered on.
"A lot of people put them in Ziploc bags and think that'll keep the water out," Young said. "It won't."
The next day, Blocker, who'd already gotten a replacement phone, (this time with insurance), was surprised and thrilled to receive a Facebook message from Young telling him he'd found the phone.
"He'd filled out his Medical ID on the phone, and that had his name and where he lived right there on the lock screen," Young said. "So I was able to track him down on Facebook."
When he finds an item without a name, number or any other identifying information, he'll put a description — but not a photo — on his Facebook page, asking people to contact him if they think it's theirs. If they can describe it, such as telling him the kind of case the phone is in or what the lock screen image is, it's theirs.
"Sometimes people even give me their passwords to see if it'll open the phone."
When he finds something for someone who hasn't hired him, Young hopes he can rely on their kindness and generosity. Blocker's dad, for example, gave him $50.
Not everyone is so considerate. Some will meet him (always in a public spot for the safety of all concerned) take their property and drive away with barely more than a howdy-do. And sometimes not even a thank you.
Young said he prefers diving in the morning, before the water gets stirred up by hordes of tubers and when he has the river virtually to himself.
Diving a river is hard work. The water flows slowly but relentlessly, so it requires a lot of strength to navigate, whether skimming above the riverbed, crossing from one side to the other or fighting to swim upstream.
"He's usually exhausted by the time he gets out of the water," said Teresa Martin, a friend who accompanied Young on one recent morning treasure hunt.
He avoids reaching into the myriophyllum plants that grow along the bottom and look like tiny forests waving in the breeze, ever since he pushed some aside to reveal a snapping turtle unhappy about being disturbed.
On a recent morning Young found plenty of loot: a set of keys, a couple of T-shirts, a few chanclas and river shoes, the top to a Yeti tumbler and, several yards away, the tumbler itself. And he found yet another iPhone not in a case, watertight or otherwise. It was bricked. Useless.
Young will keep most of what he finds for at least two weeks, selling some of what remains unclaimed and donating the rest to Goodwill or a local senior center. As for the dead phone, he knows someone who'll buy them to salvage the valuable metals they contain.
This is all perfectly legal, a sort of finders keepers, loser weepers situation, according to David Ferguson, communications coordinator with the New Braunfels Police Department.
"Anything you find in the water is considered abandoned property," Ferguson said. "You have no duty other than the moral duty to try to find an item's original owner."
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com