Police chief saves the day – and pictures

The boat parade was almost over. 

We had a great spot, at the end of the Seventh Street canal on Key Colony Beach. The boats, many with intricate displays that must have taken days to set up, floated right past us, turning from front view to side (and a couple of them doing a 360) before moving back up the canal.

I was starting to get into the holiday spirit. And all I’d had to drink was one non-alcoholic beer.

I was mostly using my camera, but I wanted to take a few pictures with my phone as well. So I pulled the phone from its pocket in the camera bag, took a few shots and set it in my lap, taking a few more with my camera. At the end of the parade, I leaned over and put the camera back in the bag. Then, thinking we might stop for one actual drink before the traffic cleared, I stood up. 

I heard the “plunk” first, and then watched, horrified, as the still-lighted screen of my phone sank to the bottom of the canal.

People who know me well will tell you that I am rarely more than an arm’s length from my phone. I don’t really use it for work, but I use it for everything else: email, texts with my family and friends, Facebook, Instagram, some games when I have a few minutes to kill. 

That may not convey to you the anguish I felt in the moment. I pride myself on keeping my phone safe. A case is the first accessory I get for a new phone. I often choose shirts to wear because they have a pocket for the phone. I’m probably a little cocky about how careful I am with it.

Still, I wasn’t worried about the phone. I wasn’t happy about it – at all – but I have a backup. I could get a new SIM card from my provider and be back up and running in a few days.

But this phone had a separate storage card where all my photos were. 

Lots of photos. That’s the other thing I use my phone for. I take pictures on my daily walks. My family. My friends. Sunsets from a variety of locations, in the Keys and elsewhere. I had just stopped last week at Anne’s Beach and took some photos from a nice little solitary stroll there.

All I could think about on the drive home from the boat parade were those photos. And the recent prompts from Amazon Prime to use its free backup service. Which I had ignored.

I didn’t sleep well that night. At midday the next day, I drove back to the city parking lot by the canal. Walked over and looked down and hey, in several feet of reasonably clear water, I saw the black outline of what I knew was my phone. 

I love to look at the water, but I don’t boat, don’t fish and don’t swim. So the phone might as well have been on the bottom of the ocean.

But I walked across the parking lot to the police department’s temporary building. A door opened, and a man in uniform said, “Can I help you?”

“I don’t know if anyone can,” I said, and explained my predicament. I mentioned that there were pictures of my mother on the phone.

And that’s when a remarkable thing happened.

Kris DiGiovanni, the chief of police who had opened the door, said he had an idea.

We walked behind the post office, and I pointed down in the water. He saw it instantly, and walked to the police boat poised at the dock. He grabbed a pole, a short-handled net, and some tape. He secured the net to the pole and knelt on the concrete, dipping the net into the water.

I watched, transfixed.

He almost had it on the very first try, but the phone flipped away, making the water murky for a moment.

DiGiovanni then lay straight out on the concrete and stretched again, this time bringing the net out of the water – with the phone nestled inside.

I think I thanked him, but I was just so ecstatic I couldn’t be sure. 

When I emailed DiGiovanni later that day to thank him again, he tried to redirect the praise: “I would like to think that any of the Key Colony Beach police officers would have done the same. … I don’t expect any recognition in something that I would do for everyone in this city.”

“Good luck with your phone,” he said. “I hope you are able to save the photos of your mother.”

The phone is toast. After letting it dry out with some desiccant for three days, nothing happened when I plugged it in. 

But here’s the surprise: I was able to get the microSD card and the SIM card out. I left them on a paper towel on the counter, where they stayed overnight.

The next morning, I plugged the SIM card into my backup phone. “No service,” it said. Sigh. Let’s try the universal trick: turn it off and on again. 

Holy cow, the backup phone works with a SIM card that spent 16 hours in salt water. 

And if that works, hey, maybe the storage card…

Plugged that into an adapter and holy cow times two: the pictures are all there.

So, to Chief DiGiovanni, let me say it again: thanks very much. Got a little holiday spirit after all.

Mike Howie
Mike Howie is the Keys Weekly’s copy editor and a valued member of the team … if for no other reason than he makes us laugh.