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Hawaii News | Incidental Lives

Garbage collector is savior to many who have lost wallets


The saying goes that all lost things are in the angels’ keeping.

Still, Sandra Laney didn’t hold out much hope of ever seeing her ID and credit cards again after her wallet was stolen June 1 at Koko Marina.

As it turns out, Laney had a personal angel in the personage of a 48-year-old formerly homeless garbage collector named Todd Nakamura.

Nakamura, who works for a private refuse collection company that services the area around the Keeaumoku Walmart, has a little quirk. Several ago he had his wallet stolen and along with it his driver’s license, vehicle registration, safety check verification and other essentials. The resulting bureaucratic headaches scattered marbles on an already difficult run of tough luck for Nakamura. And he never forgot it.

These days, before he transfers his reeking bounty for final disposal, Nakamura does a quick scan for items that may have been inadvertently tossed or, perhaps, nefariously displaced. That’s how he came to find Laney’s missing cards.

Nakamura isn’t sure to how many people he’s returned lost items, but the reaction is usually the same: utter surprise.

“I usually try to call the person if their name is on the item and I can find it in the phone book,” he says. “Otherwise, I drop it off at the person’s bank.”

Laney was so appreciative of Nakamura’s extra effort that she gave him a $20 tip. But Nakamura says money, thanks and other expressions of gratitude aren’t what keeps his eyes a-searchin’ whenever a new haul of garbage passes through.

“I try to help people whenever I can,” he says. “That’s just how I was raised.”

Nakamura grew up in Kaimuki and Maui, the fourth of six children. In his best days he enjoyed steady work as a doorman and bellhop at some of Maui’s most popular hotels. In his spare time he also coached baseball and football at the community league and high school levels, often focusing his attention on the kids at the end of the bench.

The lessons he modeled for stars and scrubs alike were always the same: Help others, stay humble, listen more than you speak.

But Nakamura has endured more than the average share of difficulty, some through his own fault, some by lousy circumstance. That includes the two years Nakamura spent without a roof over his head. He says the experience was fun at first — a sort of break from the responsibilities and expectations of the real world — but it was hardly a life he could sustain.

This he knew even before that night in 2008 when he was witness to a 20-person melee at Ala Moana Park that resulted in the shooting death of an 18-year-old man.

Nakamura, who has three sons, says he’s managed to pull his life together in the last couple of years, in part by listening to the counsel of his church leaders and friends.

“One thing they tell me is that sometimes you have to help yourself first before you help others,” he says. “But, eh, that’s not always easy to do. If I can help other people, I will.”


Reach Michael Tsai at

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