Joe Priante took up metal detecting about seven years ago. Treasures are scarce: He typically finds worthless junk and a few coins.
But his hobby recently paid off for a desperate Long Island couple. Priante found Maria Coccaro’s diamond engagement ring a week after it was lost at Jones Beach Inlet.
“I really feel that Joe is an angel on Earth sent to us,” Coccaro said. “I really do.”
On July 15, Maria and her husband John spent the day fishing at the beach on the inlet with a group of friends. That morning, Maria caught her first fish, a striped bass.
The next day, while getting ready for church, Maria realized her ring — gold with a pear-shaped diamond — was gone.
After searching their house and car, the Coccaros, a Nassau County couple who have two children and have been married 31 years, figured the ring was lost at the beach. They looked at a photo of Maria and her bass, and noticed the ring was missing.
Maria said her “heart dropped.”
The couple rushed to the beach and began digging in the sand, recalled John, a 59-year-old retired UPS employee. After coming up empty, they bought an inexpensive metal detector and spent days looking for the ring with the help of friends.
“There’s a lot of worse tragedies in this world, but this was of great sentimental value to her,” he said in an interview last week. “My heart was broken for her.”
After a week of fruitless searching, Maria said she “couldn’t let it go,” and decided to enlist some experienced help as a “last ditch effort.”
She called Treasures Unlimited, a metal detecting equipment supplier in Bellmore on July 22, she said. The owner connected her with Priante, who had just walked into the store.
Priante, 65, met the couple at the beach that day with his professional-grade White’s Spectra VX3 detector and uncovered the ring — buried under about 6 inches of sand — in less than 10 minutes.
“I’m pretty sure I screamed something and then basically cried,” Maria recalled with a laugh.
Priante discovered the ring along the shoreline at low tide. Had it been high tide, the ring would have been under water.
John called the discovery “a miracle” and said Priante reluctantly accepted a reward of $60 — all the cash John had on him.
Priante said he’s helped couples find rings before, but didn’t have much hope for the Coccaros.
“You never say never, but it wasn’t looking good after a week,” he said. “It was a happy ending . . . It was just a stroke of luck.”