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Pasco Tribune

Powerball-winning ticket pushes Zephyrhills into spotlight

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Published:   |   Updated: May 20, 2013 at 08:58 PM

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ZEPHYRHILLS

Phones keep ringing.

Speculation keeps mounting.

But someone somewhere is remaining mum.

The buzz has been nonstop around this east Pasco County town since the announcement came that the winning Powerball ticket, worth more than a half-billion dollars, was sold at a Zephyrhills Publix.

“Every time the phone rings, someone says, ‘Was it you?’” city manager Jim Drumm said Monday morning.

When city council member Charles Proctor answered the telephone at his business, he didn’t even wait to hear the question.

“It wasn’t me,” Proctor said.

In addition to the typical phone calls to city hall, the town’s government center has fielded queries from national media outlets, such as CNN and ABC, Drumm said.

As news crews descended on Zephyrhills over the weekend, speculation grew about who the lucky winner — and instant millionaire — might be. As of Monday, that person had not come forward.

“We’re trying to see who called in sick today,” Drumm joked.

The winning ticket was purchased at a Publix on U.S. 301, just north of town.

The winner has 60 days to claim the lump-sum cash option, estimated around $376.9 million, at the Florida Lottery’s office in Tallahassee. Under Florida law, lottery winners in the state cannot remain anonymous; their names and city of residence must be made publicly available to anyone who asks, according to the state’s lottery website.

“It never happens this quickly,” lottery spokesman David 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.”

The Saturday night drawing pooled chances in dozens of states for the largest Powerball jackpot to date: $590.5 million. The winning numbers were 10, 13, 14, 22 and 52, with a Powerball of 11. The odds of matching the five numbers and the Powerball are 1 in 175 million.

Forty-three states plus Washington, D.C., participate in the Powerball drawing, and Florida has produced five winners — the most of any state — since the game was first offered in January 2009.

That doesn’t include Saturday night’s winner, who may or may not be a state or Zephyrhills resident.

Regardless, Vonnie Mikkelsen, executive director of the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, hoped to use the moment to tout the town’s hotels, restaurants and attractions. She planned to head to the Publix, where TV news trucks had set up and crowds had gathered.

“I want to make sure they know they are welcome to come back any time,” Mikkelsen said.

Like everyone else, Mikkelsen denied she is the winner. Actually, she never had a chance.

“I didn’t even have a ticket,” she said. “I guess that might have helped my odds.”

Mayor Danny Burgess had a ticket. He bought it at a 7-Eleven where he routinely picks up a Slurpee.

Even though he didn’t win, he shared the town’s excitement about being the epicenter for the Powerball moment and joined everyone else in wondering who the mystery winner might be.

“In a small town, things get around pretty quickly,” Burgess said. “But this is the best kept secret in town.”

Burgess, 26, just took office a month ago as the youngest mayor in the town’s history. Suddenly, he found himself engulfed by the media storm, talking with representatives of CNN, Fox News and “Good Morning America,” among others.

He had no complaints.

“This is huge,” the mayor said. “We are the center of the universe right now and it’s exciting for Zephyrhills.”

Now he, like everyone else in town, is waiting for the big reveal from the winner and wondering what that person might do with the newfound wealth.

“If they are in a giving mood, the city of Zephyrhills is always looking for help,” Burgess said.

Drumm, the city manager, doesn’t usually buy a ticket, but with the jackpot so large he, like many people, succumbed to temptation this time.

“My wife likes to say we did get the Powerball number,” he said. “We got 11. But that’s the only one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

rblair@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1853

Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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