Juan Pineda-Sanchez knows what can happen to an unsecured mailbox.
Four years ago, the Turlock man and wife Maria expected a big check in the mail, but a thief got to it first.
"We were struggling for groceries," he said. "We were struggling for gas money."
His solution? Build a better mailbox. Last year, Pineda-Sanchez received a patent for a mailbox that sends a signal inside a house after the mail has been delivered. This lets residents get mail without delay if they are at home -- a useful feature in rural areas where the box might be some distance from the house.
The system sounds an alarm if an unauthorized person tries to reach into the mailbox or break it open. The alarm could be transmitted to a security company.
The letter carrier would have access via an electronic card or other means, but the details would have to be worked out with the U.S. Postal Service.
"It could bring the statistics for mailbox theft down," Pineda-Sanchez said. "It could bring the statistics for identity theft down, as well. It would give the peace of mind that everybody deserves."
He is seeking a company to make and market the system while paying royalties. The retail cost is unknown.
Pineda-Sanchez, 34, a native of Honduras, hopes to spread the word about his mailbox via "Everyday Inventors," a public TV show.
His wife's income from her janitor-ial service is helping him pursue his dream -- preventing mail theft.
"It happened to me. I don't want it to happen to anyone else," he said.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.