Somewhere along the tall grass and paved shoulders at the edge of an Interstate 95 interchange in Howard County rests treasure waiting to be found by a stranded motorist, wayward hitchhiker or alert road worker.

Howard County police think that wedding ring sets remain lost in the highway right-of-way after being stolen from a Columbia jewelry store Thursday. Police suspect the wedding rings were tossed from a car during a police chase that ended on I-95 just south of Route 32.

Officers found one of eight stolen wedding ring sets -- valued at a total of $17,000 -- after stopping the suspects. Twenty-four members of the Howard County police academy, some armed with metal detectors, failed to find the remaining sets during a search yesterday, according to Sgt. Gary Gardner, a Howard County police spokesman.

"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack out there," Gardner said.

The jewelry was stolen after four men entered the Zales jewelry store in the Columbia Mall about 2:20 p.m. Thursday, Gardner said.

While one man acted as a lookout and another asked for a credit application, a third asked to see wedding rings. When a tray of rings was put on the counter, a fourth man grabbed it and fled with the other three men, police said.

Police broadcast a lookout for the men, and an officer spotted a suspicious 1973 Chevrolet Malibu heading east on Route 32 near I-95. About the time the officer spotted the car, it began weaving in and out of traffic, Gardner said.

At the same time, the passengers apparently began tossing jewelry out the car window, police said.

Police later stopped the car on I-95 and arrested four men from Washington. They are Bruce T. Shelton, 31, William T. Jackson, 23, Michael W. Marshall, 18, and Kevin N. Thomas, 18. Shelton and Jackson are being held at the Howard County jail in lieu of $25,000 bond. Thomas is being held in jail in lieu of $1,000 bond. Marshall has been released on personal recognizance.

Zales employees said it is company policy not to comment on thefts.

Although it might be tempting, Gardner discourages the public from looking for the stolen jewelry.

"We spent all day out there. And we didn't find anything. And we knew where to look," he said.