A homeless man's improbable fortune and the American dream

Timothy Yost, a 46-year-old homeless man was in jail on Tuesday in Bastrop, Texas, charged with public intoxication and criminal trespassing.  

He must be feeling pretty happy, though. Within a day or two, he'll get the $77,000 he found on a riverbank last January. It consisted of 70 $100 bills and 40 gold Krugerrand coins from South Africa.  

To whom did the fortune originally belong? Nobody knows. So Yost is getting the cash under Texas' finders-keepers law -- following proper legal notices and the Bastrop City Council's 6-0 vote on Tuesday -- a perfunctory decision taken, reported the Austin American-Statesman, after little discussion.  

The city had been holding the fortune while detectives tried to determine the money's rightful owner or whether it was connected to a burglary or drug dealing or other criminal activity. Police drew a blank. So the proper legal notices were published -- and ran their course.  

"Under common law in Texas, typically if it is buried and we are not able to find the rightful owner for the funds within the prescribed time period, then the finder of the funds can petition to be awarded those funds," Bastrop Police Chief Michael Blake told YNN, a local news channel.    

Local media outlets reported an improbable rags-to-riches story. Yost went to the banks of the Colorado River on January 18 to wash his feet -- whereupon he found a bag that made a jingling sound.  

Carrying his fortune to a local bank, he tried to exchange the wet dollars for dry ones. But a teller told him the money would have to be dry, and then the police were contacted. They intercepted Yost after he left the bank. The money was confiscated -- and Yost was given a receipt for it.  

In one sense, Yost's fabulous story happened thanks to America's rule of law and sense of fair play. Things critical to the American dream. Things that function because they're overwhelmingly observed and honored by ordinary Americans -- including ordinary police officers and elected officials in Bastrop, Texas.   Imagine what would have happened to Yost's $77,000 in a place like, say, Mexico. In all likelyhood, it would have disappeared. And perhaps Yost would have disappeared too, once he started to publicly complain.  

Yost, to be sure, didn't get the money back all by himself; he had the help of Bastrop lawyer Aleta Peacock, who'd filed a lawsuit in his behalf when his fortune was in limbo. Three cheers for lawyers, huh? It's unclear from local news reports whether Yost contacted Peacock or was contacted by her.  

Because Yost was in jail on Tuesday, Peacock spoke for him. "It is a great day for Bastrop; it is a great day for Mr. Yost," she told the Statesman.  

"There are a lot of things I would like to advise him to do, but as legal counsel we have boundaries. We will ensure he gets his money and also ensure his personal safety." There was no mention as to the size of Peacock's fee or percentage cut of the loot.  

Will this story remain upbeat? Cynical readers who consult their crystal balls will probably see a pretty accurate future for Yost and his fortune.