17 Hospital Workers in the Pink With a $44-Million Jackpot

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carol Gendreau leaned against her husband Monday, held both sides of her head, and screamed:

"I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!"

Gendreau, 56, a secretary at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, is one of 17 hospital employees who defied the odds Saturday to win the $44-million jackpot in California's Lotto 6-53 game.

The winners--all women working in the medical records department who had pooled their money Friday to buy 47 $1 tickets--seemed paralyzed with disbelief Monday morning as they answered questions for the press at the medical center.

"I'm still in shock," said Tomyko Reed, an analysis clerk. "I started jumping up and down when I found out. I got sick to my stomach, and I haven't slept."

"It's something you dream about but you never think will happen," added Claudine DeFazio, department director.

Saturday's jackpot, which accumulated after five successive Lotto games failed to produce a winner, was the seventh-largest in California history, and the largest amount won by a single ticket, said Lottery spokeswoman Joanne McNabb. With 47 tickets, there was a 1-in-489,361 chance the group would win.

It was the fifth time the employees had formed a lottery pool in the last 18 months. They used the Lotto's random quick-pick selector to buy the tickets at Tropicana Liquors on Duarte Road.

The group will split the winnings according to the number of shares purchased. DeFazio and Gendreau, who each pitched in $6, get the largest prizes of $224,680 each year for the next 20 years after federal taxes. The smallest portion is $37,446 a year.

Gendreau, who lives in Apple Valley and commutes 72 miles to work, said she definitely will quit the job she has held for 10 years, buy a motor home and travel with her family.

"Everyone's contemplating leaving," said DeFazio, who added that, nevertheless, she will be staying on at the hospital, where she has worked for 10 years. She does plan to add a swimming pool to her Glendora home, though.

Clerk Vivian MaGee, 27, who had to borrow $1 to join the Lotto pool, said she wants to save her money, buy a house in Sierra Madre or Arcadia, and a Jaguar. Though she is debating whether to leave her $22,000-a-year job, she and her fiance, air-conditioning mechanic Garrett Lewis, have agreed that some of the windfall will go into a trust fund for their daughter's college education.

The employee who repeatedly pushed her co-workers to get up a pool whenever the Lotto prize passed the $30-million mark said she will not stop playing.

"Of course we're going to play again," said secretary Georgia Cates, a Lotto veteran who plays every Wednesday and Saturday. "Our chances are just as good as the next person's. It doesn't matter whether we've won or not."

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