Has 1 of 3 Winning Lottery Tickets : 'It's Pinch-Me Time,' Westminster Man Says

Times Staff Writers

A Westminster man who rarely plays the California Lottery claimed one of three winning tickets Sunday to share a world record $60.8-million prize by picking all six numbers in the latest Lotto 6/49 game.

"Nothing like this has ever happened before--it's pinch-me time," said a subdued Ron Smith, 45, an oil company production supervisor, as he sat in his living room after working a full day as usual on Sunday.

"We checked and rechecked and rechecked the numbers, and called friends . . . to check their numbers to see if ours were correct," Smith said. His wife, Linda, 41, "even checked again in the newspaper (Sunday) morning."

Smith and lucky winners in Fallbrook and Sacramento each picked all six Lotto numbers and will split the $60.8 million. Each of the winning tickets is worth about $20,296,175, to be paid out in annual installments over the next 20 years. That's about $810,000 a year after taxes, lottery officials said Sunday.

A second winning ticket was believed held by 14 hospital workers from Fallbrook in northern San Diego County who, along with a friend, bought 600 of the $1 tickets and agreed to split whatever winnings came their way.

The third winning ticket was purchased by an unknown customer at a Sacramento liquor shop. Lottery officials expect to formally identify all of the winners by today.

Sunday evening, Ron and Linda Smith played host to a few relatives and friends at their modest Westminster home as they pondered their future.

"Everybody seems happy for us," Ron Smith said.

The family has not decided exactly how to spend its new millions, but Ron Smith said he may invest in a golf course or a bowling alley because he enjoys those sports.

"My grandmother has just been admitted to a nursing home, so I'll be able to take care of her," Linda Smith said.

"She won't have to go on state aid," Ron Smith added.

Then there's their daughter, Tammy, a 17-year-old senior at Westminster High School, who "wants a car for graduation," Ron Smith said.

"Christmas!" Tammy corrected him with a shout and a poke.

Tammy, a straight-A student, now also will be able to attend the college of her choice, her father said.

"Probably San Bernardino State," Tammy said.

"U-S-C!" suggested someone in a loud voice from the family's crowded kitchen.

The Smiths have lived in the same well-kept house for 20 years, ever since their elder child, Michael, was only a few months old.

On Sunday afternoon, Michael, now 21, picked up the required Lotto claim form at the 7-11 store around the corner, where his father bought five "Quick Pick" tickets, whose numbers were selected by computer, Saturday evening.

"I was proposed to when I went to pick up the (claim) slip," Michael said Sunday.

His would-be fiancee was a complete stranger, he said, adding: "I declined."

Ron Smith, who said he has missed only one day of work in 23 years, reported for work at a Brea oil field as usual Sunday morning.

"I think I'll work another 2 or 3 weeks," he said. "I told them I'm not going to leave them in the lurch."

Although the Smiths occasionally go to Las Vegas and enjoy gambling, Ron Smith said, he is very conservative in such matters. He and his wife have bought Lotto 6/49 tickets only four or five times.

But the couple seem to have no shortage of luck. The first time they played the lottery, Linda Smith bought a scratch-off card on her son's 19th birthday and won $500.

Will all the money and attention change them?

"I hope not," Ron Smith said. "The 'can we afford it'--it will change that."

"It's kind of been mind-boggling," said Linda Smith above the din in their home Sunday evening. "We're just going to take it day by day. That's all we can do."

Disappointment was almost palpable Sunday for many among the millions of other players whose dreams of instant fortune fell short. Some had bought hundreds of dollars in lottery tickets, hoping to buck 14-million-to-1 odds and realize the richest jackpot in history.

An estimated seven of every 10 adults in California bought at least one ticket for Saturday's Lotto 6/49 leaving even lottery officials astonished by the frenzied interest in their most recent game.

"It's staggering, it's unbelievable," said lottery spokesman Bob Taylor in Sacramento. "With this kind of fever, there is a likelihood that we'll have (jackpots) like this twice a year."

Twenty-nine ticket-holders who correctly picked five out of the six numbers plus the bonus number each will receive $261,977 as a result of Saturday's lottery.

There were 1,046 ticket-holders who picked five numbers right; each will receive $3,742.

There were 64,087 people who got four numbers right; each will receive $55.

About 1.3 million people picked three numbers right; each will receive $5.

The winning numbers were 5, 20, 26, 28, 32 and 39, with 3 being the bonus number.

Of the $106 million in tickets that were sold, 50% will be returned in prizes, 34% will go to public education, a maximum of 11% will be used to pay the lottery's administrative costs and 5% will be issued to ticket retailers as commissions, officials said.

Saturday's jackpot surpassed the previous world record of $56 million in Spain's El Gordo lottery in 1983, and the old California record of $51.4 million, split in June by Travis Air Force Base mechanic Shelby Carroll and grocery bagger Randy Pennington of Sacramento.

Because of the three-way split of Saturday's record lottery, each winner's share will be less than that enjoyed by Carroll and Pennington, but that is about the only lottery-related record that wasn't shattered over the weekend, according to figures released Sunday.

In one hour alone--5 to 6 p.m. Saturday--4.3 million tickets were snapped up in anticipation of the televised lottery that night. The previous one-hour sales record was 3.7 million tickets on June 4, the day when Carroll and Pennington won the lottery.

As franchise owners of the Westminster 7-11 store where Ron Smith bought his winning ticket, Kevork and Mary Vartans get a cut of the prize money, albeit a relatively small one--about $50,000.

In the world of Lotto millionaires, the Vartans' windfall may not be much, but it's about as much as the couple makes in a year operating their 7-11 franchise, they said Sunday.

The Vartans and Southland Corp., the parent company of 7-11 Food Stores, will share one-half of 1% of the $20 million awarded to Ron Smith, who bought his ticket at their store in the 5500 block of Westminster Boulevard. Southland will get 52% of the share, and the Vartans will get 48%.

Kevork Vartans was a bit miffed Sunday that he has to split with Southland Corp.

"Why's Southland taking it?" was the way he put it. "We did the job."

Still, his wife allowed: "It's not too bad."

The Vartans, who live in Huntington Beach, plan to invest their portion, but have not decided exactly how.

Carrie Dragon, 38, a pharmacy technician at Fallbrook Hospital, was among those claiming a share of the Lotto jackpot.

She said that 13 nurses, lab technicians and other hospital employees, as well as a friend of one worker, pooled $40 each and bought 600 tickets. The tickets, she said, were purchased at a Circle K store in Fallbrook where computerized "Quick Pick" Lotto terminals randomly selected the numbers for each.

On Saturday, Dragon and her co-workers had a party to watch the lottery on TV.

"The lady who found we had a winning ticket screamed," she said Sunday. "Everybody was just amazed. Then everybody started dreaming about what we were going to do with the money."

If confirmed by lottery officials, each of the ticket's 15 shares will be worth $1,353,078.

The ticket, Dragon said, was locked in a bank vault.

"I'm going to set up trust funds for my four kids and pay off bills," she said. "But for Thanksgiving, we're all going to go to Hawaii, or some place like that."

Bill McKeel, manager of the Circle K store that sold Dragon and her friends their tickets, was no less excited Sunday. As the retailer who sold the winning ticket, his one-half of 1% of the jackpot is $101,481.

"The poor clerk that sold them the ticket is off in another world somewhere right now," McKeel said. "To think that you hand a piece of paper over to someone and it's worth $20 million."

Surinder Sanghera , who owns Sanghera's House of Liquor in Sacramento where the other jackpot-winning lottery ticket was sold, said he intends to opens a second liquor store with his commission.

Among those who didn't win a dime in Saturday's lottery was L.T. Devlin, a retired postal employee who lives in South Los Angeles. Devlin, who bought about $20 in lottery tickets that proved worthless, said he was "dented" by his loss but still managed a smile Sunday.

"You're bound to lose now and then," he said, waiting to catch a bus downtown. "But there's always next time."

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