BEEBE, Ark. — When she plucked a winning lottery ticket out of the trash, Sharon Jones' luck changed instantly. The $1 million prize let her pay off debts, give thousands of dollars to her children and buy a gleaming new pickup truck.
But now her jackpot is in jeopardy. A judge ruled Tuesday that the money belongs to another woman, who says she bought the ticket but threw it away after a lottery machine incorrectly told her it was a loser. The Arkansas Lottery Commission says there are no problems with its equipment.
"Why does she have the right to come back after she's already thrown it away and say, 'Oh no. Now that it is a winner, I want the money?'" asked Jones' husband, William, who was laid off last year after working in construction.
Jones claimed the $1 million prize last July, turning in a scratch-off "Diamond Dazzler" ticket that the other woman, Sharon Duncan, had purchased earlier at the Super 1 Stop convenience store in Beebe, about 35 miles northeast of Little Rock.
Years ago, Sharon Jones quit her job washing dishes at a cafe in nearby Searcy to tend to her father-in-law as he was dying from a lung disease. She often collected discarded lottery tickets because they can qualify for secondary prizes.
Jones discovered the ticket was a winner when the state's database wouldn't let her enter the ticket number.
When the ticket's ownership was disputed, a judge issued a restraining order — after the Joneses spent part of the money.
They have about $490,000 remaining from the $680,000 they received after taxes. They say they gave tens of thousands of dollars to their children and about $4,500 to a relative who has a child with Down syndrome.
White County Judge Thomas Hughes concluded that Duncan bought the winning ticket and never abandoned her right to claim the winnings.
Attorneys for the Joneses plan to appeal the judge's decision.