Mom's wedding rings stolen as she lay dying
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10:45 PM PDT on Wednesday, October 20, 2010
By SARAH BURGE
After months of cancer treatments and stays in unfamiliar hospitals, wearing her wedding rings gave Danielle Dale some comfort.
"It's like a security blanket," said her husband, Michael, a 43-year-old French Valley resident. "She liked having her rings on her finger."
In April, someone slipped the diamond wedding ring set off the 39-year-old mother's finger as she lay in a hospital bed. She died less than a week later, leaving behind her two little girls. Dale said he wants the rings back for his daughters, now 9 and 5.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is investigating, but has no leads.
Six months later, Dale is still stunned and angered by the callousness of the theft.
"I don't understand who would do that," he said. "There's no excuse for it."
Dale said he left his wife's bedside at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar no earlier than 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 8. The platinum rings -- a 1.25-carat princess-cut solitaire and a band with several small diamonds, together worth about $12,000 -- were still on her finger. When his mother-in-law arrived at the hospital about 9 a.m. the next morning, they were gone.
His wife had been given anti-anxiety drugs and was in no condition to notice what had happened, Dale said.
"She was incoherent," Dale said. "She had no clue that they were missing."
Dale then told hospital workers that the rings were missing, but didn't report it to the sheriff's department. Instead, he filed a claim with the hospital seeking compensation for the missing jewelry.
Months later, when it became clear that the rings were gone and the hospital would not reimburse him, Dale filed a police report.
Officials with Southwest Healthcare System, which owns Inland Valley, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Southwest's website, officials ask patients not to bring valuables to the hospital. If they do, items should be deposited in the safe in the cashier's office, the website states.
"The hospital does not accept responsibility for items of value unless they are deposited in the safe," the website states. "If you lose something, please notify your nurse immediately, who will report the loss."
Sheriff's Sgt. Patrick Chavez said that, in retrospect, his department's chances of finding the rings might have improved if Dale had gone straight to authorities.
"It's just too bad all the way around how it worked out," he said.
Investigators got a search warrant for hospital records showing which employees and contractors were on duty when the rings disappeared, Chavez said. They also visited pawn shops in case the rings might be there. So far, they have no leads.
The sheer number of hospital employees and contractors who could have come into contact with Dale-- from nurses to janitors -- is part of the problem, Chavez said.
Danielle Dale had been diagnosed with cervical cancer in December 2008, after many months of increasingly troubling symptoms.
When his wife received her diagnosis, Dale said, the doctors were encouraging about treatments.
"We were told, 'You don't have to worry. You're not gonna die,'" Dale recalled.
She underwent a barrage of cancer treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy. She even made repeated trips to St. Louis to take part in a clinical trial.
But the cancer spread and a tumor developed on her spine.
When she went to Inland Valley in April, her family did not realize how dire was her condition. Dale said they didn't expect her to be admitted. She was there for a blood transfusion that could improve her blood counts so she would qualify for another experimental treatment.
Normally, Dale said, he would have removed her jewelry for a lengthy hospital stay, though it made his wife nervous to be without her rings.
"We left her rings on because she was only supposed to be there four or five hours," he said.
After his wife arrived at the hospital, her condition rapidly deteriorated. Dale was away picking up the children from school when he learned his wife was being admitted.
The doctors caring for Danielle Dale discharged her from the hospital April 10, but by then another tumor in the lymph nodes of her neck had grown visibly larger.
Soon she was back in the hospital, this time in the ICU at Rancho Springs Medical Center in Murrieta. The tumor on her neck was so large it impaired her breathing.
Dale signed a do-not-resuscitate order and brought their girls, Samantha and Alexandra, to see their mother one last time.
Danielle Dale died April 14, two weeks shy of their 10th wedding anniversary. She would have turned 40 in July.
Dale took the girls to visit her grave at Olivewood Memorial Park in Riverside for her birthday and Mother's Day. They drew pictures and brought balloons and flowers. The girls were confused, at first, when he said they were going to visit her, Dale said.
They thought he meant in heaven.
"THEY MISS MOM"
On a recent Friday at the French Valley home near Murrieta where the family has lived since 2003, Dale sat in a living room full of doll houses and little-girl toys. His mother-in-law, Patti Doll, who stays with the kids on her days off, sat with the girls, in the kitchen. Every few minutes a blond-haired, blue-eye girl peered around the corner to see what her father was up to.
"They miss Mom, but they're doing good," said Dale, an engineer who works mostly from home. "I keep them busy. Our life is homework and sports."
He wants his wife's rings back so he can put them away for his daughters until they're older.
"Those are the rings that she wore all the time," he said. "I'm not concerned about prosecuting. I'm concerned about getting the rings back."
"I haven't given it up completely," he said. "But I'm realistic."
Authorities ask anyone with information about the rings to call Investigator Robert Cornett at the sheriff's Lake Elsinore station at 951-245-3357.
Reach Sarah Burge at 951-375-3736 or sburge@PE.com