- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

Kristen Mastroianni had been careful with the engagement ring her boyfriend of four years had given her. So careful, in fact, she ended up losing it.

Not wanting anything to happen to it during a softball game, she took the solitaire diamond ring off her finger and gently placed it into an eyeglass case before taking the field.

"I didn't want it to get damaged," said Miss Mastroianni, 31, art director at the Legal Times. "I wanted to be very careful with it. I didn't want to lose it. That would be the worst."

But then the unthinkable happened. When she opened up her eyeglass case after the game, the ring fell out and slipped through an open-grate electrical vault as she and her fiance, Tom Schoenberg, a reporter for the Legal Times, stood outside their offices in the 1700 block of M Street NW.

"I just panicked," the bride-to-be said. "It's not something that can be replaced so easily. The diamond was a family diamond, and it meant so much to me. I didn't want to move from the spot."

The diamond had belonged to Miss Mastroianni's mother, Mr. Schoenberg said.

"I pretty much just tried to figure out how we could get it out of there," Mr. Schoenberg remembered last night. "The ring was simple, it was nice, but it meant a lot."

He immediately called Potomac Electrical Power Co. and told about the emergency. Within an hour a team of workers showed up, ready to wallow around in the muck to search for the ring.

"This doesn't happen too often," said Nancy Moses, a Pepco spokeswoman. "But it's certainly a wonderful story."

Ms. Moses said Pepco gets up to 12 requests a year to recover items that fall through into the ditches.

After four hours of pumping 5 feet of water from the hole and searching through the muck, the workers quit for the night, promising to return the next morning.

"It's frustrating because you want to jump right in there and get it yourself," Mr. Schoenberg said.

The crews returned early yesterday morning, and with safety goggles and rubber suits climbed back down into the ditch. After more than six hours, they resurfaced with the platinum-band ring in hand.

The worker who found the ring, Dale Pritts, came out of the hole and told the couple he was going to take a break, then surprised them by opening his hand and giving them the ring.

"These guys did great," Mr. Schoenberg said. "They worked their butts off. I'm trying to think of a proper way to repay them for all they did."

As for the ring, the couple who plan to wed in September 2001 went back to the jeweler, who will clean it up and size it again.

"The jeweler told me never to take it off again," Miss Mastroianni said, adding she was going to get the ring back this morning.

As for the groom-to-be, Mr. Schoenberg said he was relieved and exhausted.

"I didn't get much sleep," he said. "It was stressful, very stressful."

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