Family members were unaware that the unimaginable had happened.
Passing through Jackson County on their way home to Virginia, the lockbox containing more than $60,000 in valuables fell to Interstate 85 from one of the caravan of vehicles.
Tony Robertson, a Georgia Department of Transportation equipment operator with a I-85 litter crew in Jackson, later found the box and several items from it strewn along the busy roadway.
After the recovery, "we were able to work with local law enforcement to track (the family) down," said Teri Pope, a DOT spokeswoman.
"They were amazed and overwhelmed they were able to get it back. We are very proud of Tony," she added.
For his efforts and as part of Public Employee Recognition Week, the DOT presented Robertson its first statewide "Everyday Hero" award.
The award goes to an employee deemed to have performed normal job duties at the highest level and for going above and beyond the job.
Robertson’s supervisor, area engineer Johnny R. Emmett, said he wasn’t surprised Robertson was nominated for the award.
"Tony truly demonstrates the department’s core values," Emmett said. "He is committed to providing outstanding service to our customers, always accountable for his actions, responsible and takes pride in his work."
Also, Robertson displays "the highest level of ethics in all of his actions," Emmett said.
Robertson, who lives in Franklin County, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The department’s chief, Interim DOT Commissioner Gerald Ross, bragged on the 13-year employee.
"He exemplifies an outstanding work ethic and strong character. We are proud that he is our colleague and our friend," he said.
District Engineer Russell McMurry said Robertson’s work calls for him daily to pick up litter "before it becomes a hazard to motorists."
"We usually find just gross, strange things along the roadway," Pope said.
The lockbox contained a valid passport, original birth certificates, insurance policies, matured certificates of deposit and antique coins, McMurry said.
The family had just left Florida, where they were closing out a loved one’s estate, Pope said.
"They literally had several vehicles and pickup trucks stuffed with furniture, belongings and all kinds of things," she added.
It wasn’t the first time he recovered valuables.
On another occasion, "Tony found a wallet containing current credit cards, a driver’s license and other important documents," McMurry said.