September 20, 2013

Holder of $400 million Powerball ticket a mystery in S.C.

It's the fourth-largest prize in Powerball history. The winner can remain anonymous under South Carolina law, which is where the winning ticket was bought.

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — When they learned that a Powerball ticket worth $400 million had been sold at a gas station across the road, workers at Econ-O-Bug Termite and Pest Control said they had a few big, wishful dreams. But they didn't have the prized ticket in their hands, so they came to work as usual Thursday in their yellow bug-battling vans.

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Balloons and a sign announcing a winner of the Powerball drawing are set up in front of Murphy Express store on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 in Lexington, S.C. A $400 million winning ticket in the latest Powerball drawing was sold at the service station just off I-20 west of Columbia, officials with the South Carolina Education Lottery said Thursday. Winners in South Carolina do not have to come forward publicly but Lottery Executive Director Paula Harper Bethea noted that, in order to claim the winnings, the ticketholder must contact state lottery officials within 180 days. (AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)

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Murphy Express Regional manager Kip Fruge speaks to the media in front of Murphy Express store on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 in Lexington, S.C. A $400 million winning ticket in the latest Powerball drawing was sold at the service station just off I-20 west of Columbia, officials with the South Carolina Education Lottery said Thursday. Winners in South Carolina do not have to come forward publicly but Lottery Executive Director Paula Harper Bethea noted that, in order to claim the winnings, the ticketholder must contact state lottery officials within 180 days. (AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)

"I sure didn't win it," said Jason Vannest, 32, of Lexington. He looked wistfully out the window at the buzz of activity at the Murphy USA gas station. "I'd be on vacation if I had, that's for sure."

Colleague Eddie Terrell chimed in that he had his destination all picked out, even though he wasn't the winner in Wednesday night's drawing of the fourth-largest prize in Powerball history.

"I'd be on a flight to Ireland right now," said Terrell, 50. He said he purchased his Powerball ticket at another store, but he was still curious. "I just want to know who won it," he said.

But the winner didn't attend Thursday's news conference at the gas station, and his or her identity remained a mystery even to lottery officials.

"We have no idea who holds this ticket," Lottery Executive Director Paula Harper Bethea said. She said winners in South Carolina do not have to come forward publicly.

Bethea advised the winner to sign the back of the ticket, put it in a safe place, and consult financial and legal advice. He or she has 180 days to come forward to lottery officials, Bethea added.

The lucky ticket was one of 356 sold Wednesday afternoon at the gas station, nestled just off 1-20 west of Columbia. On Thursday, dozens of reporters and rows of television satellite trucks gathered at the station, along a road lined with fast-food restaurants, meat processing stores and a red barn where produce and homemade jellies are sold.

Nearby billboards played on the lottery news: "Feeling lucky? Shop at Murphys. Feeling hungry? Come on in!" ''Hey Powerball winner, have you tried our pepper-coated bacon?"

Bethea said the winner chose a "quick pick" ticket, letting the computer select the numbers: 7-10-22-32-35, with the Powerball of 19.

The actual value is $399.4 million, with a direct cash option of $233 million. It's the largest Powerball winning ticket sold in South Carolina. In May, a Florida widow won the biggest Powerball jackpot in history — a $590 million pot.

Store manager Keith Wedmore said he'd encouraged some people to buy a ticket Wednesday afternoon and that he hoped the winner was one of those he'd talked into spending their money.

"It was steady all day long," Wedmore said. "We are a busy store."

He noted that many visitors come from out of state, since I-20 runs from central South Carolina all the way to Texas. "We draw all sorts of traffic off the interstate," he said. Bethea said that if the winner lives elsewhere, he or she will have to return to South Carolina to show officials the ticket.

Customer Donna Taylor of Columbia, 42, said she purchased Powerball tickets, but it wasn't her lucky day.

"I didn't win. I'm frustrated," said Taylor, who runs a cleaning service. "I think I'm going to go right in there and buy another ticket today."

Leo Hinnant, 48, of Columbia, leaned on his pickup and laughed at all the fuss as he filled his tank.

"It's high time it's come close to home, but I want to see who the winner is," he said.

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