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Powerball winner still hasn't stepped forward

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Published:   |   Updated: May 20, 2013 at 12:37 PM

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ZEPHYRHILLS -

The fickle finger of the universe randomly pointed at someone in the lottery ticket line at a Publix supermarket in Zephyrhills this past week, changing that person's life forever with a Powerball ticket worth more than a half-billion dollars.
 
The drawing on Saturday night pooled chances in dozens of states for the largest Powerball jackpot — $590.5 million — and now all eyes are on this small Pasco County town as everyone waits for the Florida Lottery to announce who will be cashing in the single winning ticket.
 
The parking lot outside the Publix on a steamy Sunday morning was clogged with reporters and television news trucks with satellite poles rising above the oak trees in the lot's medians. The winner was not spotted, or had not stepped forward as of Monday morning.
 
“It wasn't me. It wasn't me,” hollered Lee Kibler, of Zephyrhills, as he made his way through the throng to his car. “Yeah,” he said, “I bought a ticket yesterday, though.”
 
He said his son called him Sunday morning from Akron, Ohio, and asked if he had bought a ticket at the Publix in Zephyrhills. Kibler rushed to his ticket and checked the numbers, his heart pounding.
 
“Not a single number,” he said.
 
He's not a regular buyer. “Usually, when it gets about $70 million or over,” he said, “I'll buy a ticket.”
 
Kibler will continue to buy his tickets at the grocery store just north of town on U.S. 301.
 
“Sure,” he said, “Why not?”
 
The winner surely beat the odds. Matching the five numbers and the Powerball is a 1 in 175 million shot, but it's still a lot better than if you don't have a ticket, said David Wilcox of Zephyrhills, who occasionally buys tickets at Publix.
 
Wilcox and his wife, Sandra, didn't plunk down the bucks this week.
 
“I cannot imagine winning that much,” Sandra Wilcox said.
 
Forty-three states plus Washington, D.C., participate in the Powerball drawing, and Florida has produced five winners — the most of any other state — since the game was first offered in January 2009. And that doesn't include Saturday night's winner, who may or may not be a state resident.
 
“This would be the sixth Florida Powerball winner and right now, it's the sole winner of the largest ever Powerball jackpot,” Florida Lottery executive Cindy O'Connell told The Associated Press. “We're delighted right now that we have the sole winner.”
 
Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said there are a lot of rumors about who won, but the store doesn't know. “We're excited for the winner or winners,” she said.
 
Saturday night's winning numbers were 10, 13, 14, 22 and 52, with a Powerball of 11. Terry Rich, CEO of the Iowa Lottery, said officials reported 33 winning tickets for a $1 million prize each were sold around 17 states. He said lotteries reported two winning tickets each for the $2 million PowerPlay, one in New York and the other in South Carolina.
 
Florida Lottery spokesman David Bishop said Sunday that it was doubtful the winner would come forward that day. The ticket-holder can't claim the prize until Monday when the agency opens, he said.
 
“It never happens this quickly,” Bishop said. “If they know they won, they're going to contact their attorney or an accountant first so they can get their affairs in order.”
 
Michael Kosnitzky, a partner of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in Miami and New York, advises the winner to not rush any decisions.
 
“There's a normal reaction among most people to want to spend on things they otherwise could not afford and to give and to care for people they could not otherwise, if not for winning the lottery,” Kosnitzky said. “Those are all natural feelings that all humans have, but it is important to do so in a methodical, businesslike and systematic way. And not to be overcome by emotion and not to be pressured to make a decision in the short term that may have significant, long-term implications.”
 
Kosnitzky, who has represented past lottery winners on tax matters and in other capacities, said putting together a team of advisors is of utmost importance. There should be a lawyer, a certified public accountant and a financial advisor. The advisors should have substantial experience, he said.
 
“Often times (lottery winners) are unsophisticated people,” Kosnitzky said. “People who win lotteries are like high school players who suddenly become NBA basketball players and they're immediately affected by substantial wealth. At least the NBA and professional sports leagues have found ways to educate their players. Lottery winners don't have that advantage.”
 
Another decision would be whether to take a lump sum or an annuitized payment over the course of years. He said annuity payments are safe from creditors if bankruptcy is filed. Meanwhile a lump sum is fair game.
 
Wayne Parr, a Publix customer who recently moved to Zephyrhills from North Carolina, said he wouldn't rush to turn in the winning ticket.
 
“If it was me, I would wait a month, maybe six months, before coming forward,” Parr said.
 
When Sandra Lewis pulled into the Publix parking lot Sunday morning, she hadn't heard about the windfall news. She saw the crush of media and figured it was some special event.
 
“I came to get some water and then found out that one person was the winner,” she said. “If it was me, I wouldn't be here talking to you.”
 
But it couldn't have been her, she said. She didn't have a ticket.
 
“I hope I know that person who won,” she said, “And I hope they like me.”
 
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Staff writer Eddie Daniels contributed to this report.
 
 


kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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