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Lottery winners among us

Reggie Harvey, who split an $83 million dollar  jackpot with co-workers at Whispering Pines Nursing Center in New Port Richey in 2000, informed two of the other winners via telephone who were away on a cruise as his wife, Alexis, poured champagne. The couple later retired in Louisiana. [Times files]

Reggie Harvey, who split an $83 million dollar jackpot with co-workers at Whispering Pines Nursing Center in New Port Richey in 2000, informed two of the other winners via telephone who were away on a cruise as his wife, Alexis, poured champagne. The couple later retired in Louisiana. [Times files]

Wednesday's Powerball drawing, worth more than $1.5 billion, or roughly how much Donald Trump spent on hair products last year, has Tampa Bay residents lining up for tickets and dreaming of embarrassingly large yachts.

Yes, the odds of winning are long.

Long, like the distance from Pluto to the sun.

But somebody's going to beat the odds, and plenty of times, that somebody has been one of our neighbors.

Tampa Bay has crowned many a lottery winner, regular folks who dropped in to Circle K for a Diet Coke, and thought, 'Eh, sure, why not, I'll take a Quick Pick.' And just like that, they were hiring decorators for their staterooms and using terms like "amidships."

Some lucky local winners of yore:

1988, Jackpot full of irony

A man who called the lottery a tax on the poor and refused to buy a ticket became Florida's first million-dollar winner. Thomas Sawyer, 46, a St. Petersburg paint store owner who found his ticket on the ground, stuck a wooden key into a giant Valentine heart and watched as it popped open to reveal the number: $1,000,000.

"I don't believe it," he whispered to his wife, Pam Sawyer.

Looking pained, lottery officials said they hoped they had "won" Sawyer over with the prize.

Not a chance.

"I'll enjoy the money," Sawyer told reporters. "But it doesn't change my feeling that people who probably can afford it least are the ones who play most. . . . If I had $5, I would rather go to a two-hour movie than spend two minutes scratching off tickets."

1998, You're never too old to get rich

Fortune smiled twice on Haydee and Leonard de Cisneros.

First, the big break: The Beverly Hills retirees won a portion of the $23-million Lotto jackpot from Nov. 14.

But that's not all. The de Cisneroses won their money just after the Florida Lottery changed its rules so recipients could collect in one lump sum instead of incrementally for decades.

"What are we going to do, wait?" asked Mrs. de Cisneros, 85. "When you aren't so young, you don't want to wait for the money."

"One is perfect," added her 81-year-old husband. The couple had no children or grandchildren.

Since they elected to take the money right away, the de Cisneroses' take was $4.87-million.

1999, It's not paranoia when you're sitting on a ticket worth millions

For nearly three weeks, Aida Del Cuadro agonized over how to secure a scrap of paper bearing the numbers 3-5-7-8-25-35.

The Cuban immigrant, who lived in West Tampa, first hid it under a Virgin Mary statue on her dresser. Worried it might be discovered, she stashed it in a safe at her daughter's house a few blocks away, then took it to a safe deposit box at a bank. Fearing thieves, she returned it to her daughter's home.

Finally, she delivered the ticket to officials in Tallahassee and claimed her part of a $66-million Lotto jackpot. There were six other winning tickets sold.

Del Cuadro, 64, who waited to come forward while a trust was established for the money, opted to take a lump sum payment of about $4.4-million in cash. The former cigar factory worker learned she had won on May 22 as she watched the news.

2000, The story to make you think twice about opting out of the office pool

"I went to sleep a poor man and woke up worth millions," said the leader of the newest group of Florida Lotto winners.

It was 6 a.m. when the phone awakened Reggie Harvey and his wife, Alexis, a call that would change their lives.

"We won," said the voice on the other end.

"Yeah, right," replied Harvey.

Each week, Harvey and nine members of the administrative staff at the Whispering Pines Nursing Center in New Port Richey would throw a few bucks into a birthday pool to buy cakes, drinks and gag gifts for each other.

When there was a surplus — and when the lottery jackpot climbed into tens of millions — the group purchased 10 quick-pick tickets.

The early morning call was from one of his co-workers. They held the single winning ticket, worth $81.6-million.

"Twenty-five percent of the people working at Whispering Pines are now multi-millionaires," said Harvey. "The working guy hit it."

2008, Reminder: It's only money

The day Gail Przybylski buried his oldest son, he also bought a lottery ticket.

And it won him a $9-million jackpot.

Przybylski's son Roy Hawkins, 30, died at home March 1.

Przybylski, 52, did not wish to give the details, but said the death of his son — a musician who was trying to start a band — was unexpected.

The family buried Hawkins the afternoon of March 6. On the way home from the Oakside Cemetery, they stopped at the Time Saver Food & General Store in Zephyrhills for soda.

Przybylski also bought $10 worth of lottery tickets.

"I just happened to grab them because we stopped," Przybylski said, adding he usually picked up some lottery tickets whenever he was at the store.

He randomly picked the winning numbers: 6-10-26-37-46-50.

And, yes, he believed his son played a part in the winnings.

"We figured maybe he was just looking after us," Przybylski said.

Lottery winners among us 01/12/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2016 11:43am]
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