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Pepco's Manhole Inspection Crews Go "Mining" for Lost Diamonds

A true story about how Pepco workers recovered an engagement ring dropped
accidently 20 feet into a downtown manhole

June 15, 2000

When a recently engaged woman loses her diamond ring down a grated electrical manhole, every other married or engaged woman instinctively grabs her own as if to ensure its safety. This happened Tuesday evening June 13 in the 1700 block of M Street in the downtown district of Washington, DC.

Kristen Mastroianni was walking down M Street NW when she opened her sunglasses case, where she had the ring stored while playing an after-work baseball game. The family-heirloom, diamond engagement ring flew out and dropped through a Pepco grate in the sidewalk.

Four Pepco underground equipment and inspection testers responded to the scene after Kristen and her fiance', Tom Schoenberg, called the utility company for help. After all, the vault holds a 13,000 volt transformer and associated cables, which were all insulated, but nevertheless, not a place for the unskilled --in love or not!

The crew lifted the grate and had to pump 5-feet of water out of the 15-foot deep space, then, with safety gear on, climbed down and took turns sifting through about two inches of muck. Four hours later, they still had no luck, and with a storm coming across the area, they closed up for the night at 11:30 pm..

Wednesday morning a day crew carrying John Nicholson and Dale Pritts, who were headed to inspect equipment beneath manholes, were diverted by the company dispatcher to go meet the couple back at the vault. They were joined by a Pepco emergency underground crew, Robert Baxter and Tim Alston.

The Pepco guys were on their hands and knees sifting the gunk through a plastic strainer and coming up with everything but the ring.

"I never expected it to be this hard to find it," she told the Washington Post. "I never expected someone to look this hard for it either."

About 1:30 p.m., Pepco's Pritts and Alston announce from the depths that they`re going to take a break, as if to say the search is over. When Pritts is out of the hole, he displays the muck-covered ring.

Oh Joy! Mastroianni and Schoenberg are hugging and crying while the crowd gets the happy ending they had almost given up on. Over five hours of searching on Wednesday and crew-member Pritts humbly says, "It took us long enough."

"Hey, keep it on your finger from now on, okay?" says Nicholson.

Point of Contact:
Nancy Moses

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