Down the toilet usually equals gone forever. But in the case of one high school class ring, that's not so.
John Hulick of West Richland lost his 1985 class ring from Pemberton Township High School in New Jersey a year ago, when his then 4-year-old daughter Kate accidentally dropped it into the toilet.
It was returned June 12 by West Richland public works employee Dustin Miller.
The details of the ring's return tell a story of sheer luck.
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Kate had been playing with the ring -- shiny silver with an eye-catching purple stone -- when she asked her father if she could wear it.
"I thought, 'Sure, why not? Nothing bad can happen,' " Hulick said.
"I was helping her in the bathroom and flushed the toilet before she told me, 'Daddy, your ring fell in.' I figured it was gone, gone," he said.
The flush carried the ring into the main sewage lines off Blue Heron Boulevard. There it caught, likely in the usual sand, tree roots and other debris periodically flushed from the city's lines by maintenance workers.
It sat there for months, bathed in caustic sewage.
Miller and his fellow Waste Water Collections employee, Carlos Gomez, were flushing sewage lines in the Bird Hill neighborhood in May. The city's big Vactor truck uses water to blast the lines, loosening anything stuck, then sucks up the water and any loose debris.
As they work, the men occasionally drain off excess water before moving on to another section of sewage line. Any solids stay in the truck's holding tank.
"We don't normally empty the Vactor until the end of the day, so there's always a lot of stuff in there," Miller said.
Normally, workers find a lot of sand, tree roots, rocks and chunks of asphalt when they dump the truck. Once in a while they'll spot a cellphone, small toy or cut-up plastic credit cards.
"There's a lot of things that go down. Things that have no business being flushed down the toilet," Miller said.
This time, they spotted the ring. Gomez plucked it out. They cleaned it with hand sanitizer and spotted Hulick's name engraved inside the band.
The two deciphered the name of the high school, and Miller found Hulick's name on Facebook.
"On his Facebook page he said he'd attended Pemberton," Miller said. "We knew it was our guy."
On May 22, Miller sent Hulick an email: "Hey, Dustin with the City of West Richland. We were cleaning sewer lines and found your class ring. Let me know how to return it."
Facebook marked the message "other" -- Hulick didn't see it for weeks, because he usually checks the social media site on his phone.
"It was just happenstance that I was searching for a message from a friend and used the computer at home. I saw two 'other' messages ... the second one I opened was from the guys at the treatment plant," Hulick said. "I was astounded."
Amazingly, the ring came out of the sewer looking like it had been sitting on Hulick's dresser.
"We've seen coins come out of the lines so badly corroded you can't even see any writing or the head. The only way we can tell they're money is the size and color of the coins," Miller said.
What saved Hulick's ring is the metal it's made of. Gary Gerlach, manager of The Coin Cradle in Kennewick, said the ring is an alloy of 93 percent nickel and about 7 percent iron. It also tested out to have four-tenths of a percent silver, likely silver plating.
"It's the nickel that saved it. It's hard to harm nickel," Gerlach said.
When Hulick traveled to Italy shortly after his high school graduation in 1985, his mother put her foot down and told him to leave the ring at home.
"She didn't want me to lose it over there. Here, I've had it almost 30 years and my daughter flushes it down the toilet," he said, chuckling.