The New York City cabbie who drove to Patchogue twice on Christmas Eve to return a purse with more than $20,000 in cash to a grandmother visiting from Italy was praised Monday for delivering a Christmas "miracle."
Felicia Lettieri, 72, who returned to her home in Pompeii, on Sunday, could not be reached for comment. But her relatives on Long Island and in Italy said Monday they were eternally grateful to the cabbie, Mukul Asaduzzaman, 28.
"If it wasn't for him, it would be a miserable vacation," said the woman's sister, Francesca Lettieri, 79, of Patchogue. "We really love what he did."
Efforts to reach Asaduzzaman were unsuccessful.
In the front seat of one cab, Felicia Lettieri carried in her purse 15,000 euros (about $21,750), jewelry worth thousands more and the passports of many of the people in her group. Relatives said the cash was the traveling money for the entire group.
The purse was especially important because Lettieri's luggage had been lost on the trip from Italy and would not arrive for about five days, relatives said.
As the taxi sped away, Lettieri quickly realized she had left her purse inside. She and the others chased after it, to no avail.
Relatives said Lettieri went to a 42nd Street police station, where officers tried to track down the cabbie - but told her not to get her hopes up.
"Everybody said, 'This is New York. Forget about it. You lost everything,' " Francesca Lettieri said.
Heartbroken, Lettieri continued on to Patchogue, and she tried in vain to enjoy a Christmas Eve dinner attended by about 50 people. Later, when she went to her sister's home, a note was waiting at the front door.
"He left a note saying, 'Don't worry, Felicia. I know this is important to you. I'll keep it safe,' " Felicia Lettieri's daughter, Maria Rosaria Falonga, said from her Pompeii home Monday.
The driver, whom Lettieri's family identified as Asaduzzaman, had driven to the Patchogue address written on a note in the purse - only to find the house empty.
Asaduzzaman, who had written his cell phone number on the note, was driving west when Lettieri's relatives called. He turned around.
Awaiting him in Patchogue were the smiling faces of nearly everyone from the night's Christmas Eve party. Asaduzzaman refused to accept any reward for his good deed.
"It was a miracle," Falonga said. "It was just amazing."