MODESTO, Calif. -- Toben Barnum has processed hundreds of pieces of evidence in his yearlong career at the Modesto Police Department, but when a fellow evidence technician came across some medals and a plaque weeks ago, he knew he had to get them back to their rightful owner.
"They were potentially going to be thrown away. And fortunately our assistant found them and realized what they were right away,” said Barnum, a property and evidence technician with the Modesto Police Department.
After determining the medals and plaque were real, Barnum began to search.
"My next step was to try and see if I could track the owner, some way. There’s no listing of his information in our computer system,” he said.
Barnum told FOX40 he called the U.S. Navy recruiter then the Veterans Affairs Office with no luck. Not until he did some online investigating.
“Using some search engines I ended up coming across a name, an address and a phone number," he said.
Barnum’s search led him to a man about 2,000 miles away -- Art Pollard a Navy veteran who now lives in Alabama.
“I asked, ‘How’d you find me?’ He said, ‘We have ways,’” Pollard said over the phone.
Pollard served in the military for 26 years and fought in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars. He said he gifted the medals to his daughter back in 2003.
About a year later, he said someone broke into her Modesto home and stole them.
"I was kind of devastated by it, really, because I put in my 26 years in the Navy to get those medals,” Pollard said.
More than a decade later, the Modesto Police Department said Pollard’s medals were found in the back of a stolen car in the city. They sat in the evidence warehouse for months before Barnum and his co-workers made the discovery.
"They give their lives up to protect us and protect my family and give us the liberty and secure liberty we have. So it’s the least I could do,” Barnum explained.
The gold and brass medals are now in Alabama. Pollard plans to build a new shadowbox to house them so that he can once again share his legacy with his family.
"How pleased he had the presence of mind to think about to try and find the owner,” Pollard said.
Barnum said he hopes to meet Pollard in person soon.