Lost in a flash but not deleted

Tracey Phillips reaches out to hug Daniel Island patrol officer Rickey Haynes, the officer who contacted her to let her know that an anonymous woman turned in the keys Phillips lost last month on Sullivan's Island. Phillips, a doctoral student, had the on

Melissa Haneline

Yes, she should have backed up her data.

No, it wasn't a smart move on Tracey Phillips' part to carry on her key ring a tiny digital memory device, or flash drive, that she used to store the only complete copy of her doctoral dissertation, which represented three years of work.

And maybe the odds were against her getting the key ring back after she lost it late last month.

But Phillips, 42, of North Charleston, who is working on her Ph.D. in counseling education through Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., remained optimistic.

She had that sinking feeling when she and her boyfriend returned to the car after spending 30 minutes at the beach on Sullivan's Island April 27 and she couldn't find her keys. She knew the flash drive contained the only complete copy of her data.

"I don't always do my work in one place," Phillips said. Pieces of the data were backed up on different computers, she said. But she kept the complete copy with her at all times on the key ring.

Phillips said she didn't panic. She just knew that somehow, she was going to get her key ring back. "I was convinced," she said. "I said they will turn up."

She assumed somebody just picked up the keys and turned them in somewhere or was holding them for her.

Phillips checked with Sullivan's Island authorities but nobody had turned them in.

After about five days, her boyfriend suggested the key ring might not be found, she said.

But she wasn't swayed. "I'm very, very much a person of faith," she said. "Everything works out for the best even if it doesn't seem like it."

Last Friday, she went back to the spot where her car was parked when she lost the key ring to take another look around. People who lived nearby suggested she get her story in a newspaper.

So she wrote a letter to the editor that ran in Wednesday's edition of The Post and Courier.

That morning, she got a text message from Charleston police officer Rickey Haynes asking her to stop by the Daniel Island station. A woman who didn't leave her name read the letter in the newspaper and dropped the keys at the station.

Phillips rushed down to the station and sat in an office waiting for Haynes. When he walked in the door with her key ring in his had, she jumped up and hugged him.

"I feel like a huge burden has been lifted," the New York native said. She said she's grateful to the people of Charleston. "If this had been New York, I never would have seen this again."

Phillips said she wishes she could thank the woman who dropped off her keys. And she promises from now on to back up her data.