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Speculation rampant on mystery identity of Powerball winner in Zephyrhills

ZEPHYRHILLS — The winner of the $590 million Powerball — the largest sum in the history of lotteries — is a young employee at the Publix where the winning ticket was sold.

Or, it's a worker at the Walmart across Gall Boulevard.

Or, it's the manager at the McDonald's inside the Walmart.

The actual winner of the Powerball is anyone's guess. But rumors have been swirling feverishly around the 13,000-person, blip-on-the-map town since late Saturday night when it was announced that the winning ticket had been purchased here. It seems everyone has some snippet of intelligence on the anonymous winner who has yet to claim the fortune.

"This is a small town," said 26-year-old Mayor Daniel Burgess, "and as you know, secrets don't get kept in small towns."

Speculation and imagination were served alongside eggs and country-fried ham at the Village Inn on Main Street. Don Haralson, 82, said he would take $1 million for himself, if he had won, and give the rest to his family.

Across the booth, his granddaughter Amy Holloman, 34, said she would put her money toward new schools in town if she had won.

At Clock Family Diner on Gall Boulevard, 3 miles south of the Publix where a herd of news trucks had formed in the parking lot, waitress Stacey Ann Puckett filled glasses and chimed in on conversation about the winner.

"I hope it's a charitable person," she said.

So does the mayor.

If the winner does feel like giving, Burgess said, he'd like to see some money go into restoring Main Street: maintaining the ancient and now-vacant home of the city's founder, revamping the downtown movie theater into a performing arts center, sprucing up the facades of the buildings.

"Give people a reason to spend more time down there," he said.

Most everyone's fantasies about winning began with a generous handout to the community. Sure, it's a saintly sentiment. But does anyone really do that?

Ask Keith Ryan, the mayor of Bondurant, Iowa, where one man picked up the $202 million Powerball ticket last fall.

The winner, Brian Lohse, decided to build a bigger house and stay in town. He donated enough for Bondurant High School to build a new football stadium. He donated to his church, too. And the crowd-pleaser: he set aside a few million for the town of 3,900 to build its first grocery store.

"They're not being stingy with (the money) by any stretch of the imagination," Ryan said.

They broke ground for Brick Street Grocery two weeks ago.

It doesn't always go that way.

In Red Bud, Ill., where a man won $111 million in April 2012, nothing has changed. Mayor Tim Lowry said the city of 3,700 never asked the man for anything. There was no massive spur to the local economy. The excitement blew by as quick as it came.

"Life just goes on," Lowry said. "It's just the same little town that we had before."

In 2008, a winning ticket for the $270 million Mega Millions jackpot was bought in 600-person Portal, Ga. But the family was from another nearby community. Portal got nothing, said a man who answered the phone in the mayor's office.

• • •

It could be a while before anyone in Zephyrhills knows for sure who won.

Florida Lottery rules say winners have 60 days to claim their winnings if they opt to take the lump sum for a smaller amount. In this case, that would be $370.9 million, said lottery spokeswoman Meagan Dougherty.

The deadline to claim is extended to 180 days for the 30-year annual payout option. The ticket can be claimed only at the lottery offices in Tallahassee.

In both cases, 25 percent in taxes is automatically knocked off.

The Publix at 7838 Gall Blvd. is also a winner: The store will get $85,000 for selling the jackpot-winning ticket. Publix declined to comment on the winning.

"We are very excited for the winner, or winners, but we are also respectful of the privacy of all of our customers," said spokesman Brian West in an email. "There are a lot of rumors speculating the identity of the winner, but we do not know the identity. Publix does not promote the Lottery. We offer Lottery sales to our customers for their convenience."

By the time the lottery offices closed Monday evening, no one had claimed a ticket.

"I assume they're trying to come to grips with the fact that they won this large amount," Dougherty said.

Everyone else is, too.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

A vehicle passes Sunday in front of the Publix supermarket in Zephyrhills where the winning ticket for the $590.5 million Powerball jackpot, the highest in the history of lotteries, was sold recently.

Associated Press

A vehicle passes Sunday in front of the Publix supermarket in Zephyrhills where the winning ticket for the $590.5 million Powerball jackpot, the highest in the history of lotteries, was sold recently.

Speculation rampant on mystery identity of Powerball winner in Zephyrhills 05/20/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 11:51pm]
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