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FAITH RESTORED; GOOD SAMARITAN TURNS WALLET IN - WITH $1,000 CASH INTACT.

Byline: Jesse Hiestand Daily News Staff Writer

Ernest LeGault felt sick Wednesday when he realized what a big mistake he'd made - he'd left his wallet and his electronic organizer on the roof of his Ford Explorer when he drove off to work.

Thousands of phone numbers for his software business, credit cards, checkbook, family photos - and $1,000 in cash.

All gone.

What LeGault didn't count on was that Ismael Gutierrez, a part-time landscaper and full-time good Samaritan would find the wallet and hand it over to police with the $1,000 and other items.

``It makes you feel a whole lot better about the world in general,'' LeGault said. ``It seems as you get older, you see things going downhill. Then you see something like this and you realize that not everybody's a crook.''

Later Wednesday, LeGault met Gutierrez to offer his thanks and a $200 reward. The landscaper explained that initially he was tempted to keep the $1,000.

``I pulled over and opened it up and saw $1,000,'' said the 39-year-old Canyon Country man. ``I'm like, Wow, especially because I only had $2 on me.''

But Gutierrez changed his mind when he found in the wallet a photo of LeGault with his wife and two children.

``I would have had a guilty conscience - just thinking about it made me have a guilty conscience,'' he said. ``But after - I felt a lot better about myself.''

Gutierrez said he also lost his own wallet several years ago and remembered the grief that comes with having to cancel credit cards and get a new driver's license, not to mention the lost cash.

During their meeting, LeGault shook hands with Gutierrez.

``It's not very often we run across such honest and good character,'' LeGault said.

``Don't lose it again. I don't think I'll be around to find it,'' Gutierrez said. The Canyon Country man just happened to be on his day off Wednesday when he found the wallet about 10 a.m. at Oxnard Street, near White Oak Avenue.

Certainly, it is a lesson that LeGault learned well.

He was on his way to work, a briefcase in one hand, a computer in the other, when he left his wallet on the car's roof and headed out to drop off his 3-year-old son at day care.

``I realized I didn't have it after I dropped my son off,'' he said. ``I thought I left it at home and went back there and looked in the car, looked in the street, all over.''

Making the ordeal all the more unbearable, LeGault said, was the fact that he'd just cashed a check and planned to deposit the money Wednesday.

``I was thinking, How often do you carry $1,000? Just my luck,'' he said. ``The thought of replacing all those things was just sickening me. I was just about ready to start driving the streets looking for it when the phone rang.''

After driving home to his brother's house in Winnetka, Gutierrez made the short walk to the West Valley Division station where he handed Officer Eric Holtz the bulging wallet.

``He just walked it in the station,'' Holtz said. ``We congratulated him for his honesty and integrity. He was just doing his good duty looking out for another human being.''

Gutierrez made no overture to officers about wanting a reward, although he gave them his name and phone number so they could pass it along to the wallet's owner.

Holtz said he'd seen wallets turned in before, ``but it's very unusual for that large of a dollar amount to go untouched.''

LeGault joked that he felt so lucky he'd better run out and buy a lottery ticket.

It was a lucky day too for his electronic organizer, which survived the fall off the truck and the hazards of passing traffic with just a small scuff.

There again, Gutierrez can be thanked: ``I had to swerve to avoid hitting it.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

PHOTO Ernest LeGault, left, thanks Ismael Gutierrez after the part-time landscaper returned LeGault's lost wallet - containing $1,000.

John Lazar/Daily News
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 15, 1999
Words:683
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