A dozen employees of Fallbrook Hospital, flanked by their families and their friends, clambered into six limousines Monday afternoon and began a stately procession to, of all places, a Circle K convenience store. There, they cashed in a winning lottery ticket worth more than $20 million, then proceeded on a champagne-accompanied trip to a press conference at the San Diego Marriott Hotel.
Fifteen employees of the hospital and their friends, who pooled their money last week to buy $600 worth of lottery tickets, found out Saturday night that they had become millionaires. On Monday they went public with their new-found financial status, greeting the press with giddy cheers and laughter. As the group gathered for photographs, one of the ticket holders shouted: "Thanks a million, Lotto!"
The group found fame and fortune Saturday night as the possessors of one of three winning tickets in a world-record jackpot of $61.98 million. Each of the 15 ticket holders will collect $1,101,867 after taxes, state lottery officials said.
The hospital workers, who represent at least six departments within the small 50-bed hospital at 624 E. Elder St. in Fallbrook, all said they plan to keep their jobs. "They're all quality people. We can't afford to have any of them quit," said Dr. John Piconi, a winning ticket holder and a urologist at the 270-employee hospital.
Each of the 15 ticket holders, some of whom will split their winnings with friends and neighbors, will receive 20 annual checks worth $55,093, said lottery official Molly English. Asked how it felt to be a millionaire, winner Jonathan Duff Stone said: "At $55,000 a year it's not enough to make us independently wealthy, but it certainly is enough to spend a couple weeks in Barbados."
The first check for $826,395 will be issued within a month to ticket-holder Colleen M. Peach-Van Horn, English said. Peach-Van Horn, 36, said she and her colleagues will meet with an attorney Tuesday to plan the orderly distribution of the money among the winners.
Stone, 35, pharmacy director at the hospital, said he and lab technician Charles Jett, 38, made the decision last week to organize a group to play the lottery. "The previous Wednesday, six of us played and we didn't do very well," Stone said. "But nobody won the lottery that week, so Charlie and I got together and decided to go for it."
Stone and Jett recruited 13 other players and collected $40 from each. Then, during their lunch break Friday, they went into the Circle K store in Fallbrook and laid six $100 bills on the counter. It was agreed beforehand that the group would use the "quick pick" system--by which the computer chooses the numbers--and that all the tickets would be purchased at the same location, Jett said.
On Saturday night they gathered for a party at the new home of Joan McConnell, a 36-year-old pharmacy technician. Each player held a stack of mimeographed sheets containing the numbers on their lottery tickets, while they listened to the announcement of the winning numbers on television. Peach-Van Horn said it took her two minutes, at the most, to realize she was holding one of the big winners.
A Bonus-Number Winner
"It was absolute chaos," she said Monday. "There was a lot of screaming and hugging and kissing." Another winner shouted from the back of the hotel meeting room: "We could have filled an adrenaline bank!"
Another big winner in the crowd Monday was Lemon Grove resident Mike Allen, who picked five of the six lucky numbers plus the bonus number. Allen, a Food Basket store manager who bought his ticket at the VFW Hall in Lemon Grove, will receive a single payment of $262,000, English said.
Rob Kelly of Fallbrook will also profit from the winnings, though he wasn't one of the 15 players from the hospital. Last week, Charles Jett, his neighbor, jokingly told Kelly he would give him a $5 share of his $40 lottery investment as a birthday present. "I called him on the phone as soon as we heard," Jett said. "It was the best birthday present he ever had." Kelly said he plans to use his one-eighth share of Jett's winnings to landscape the "half-acre of dirt" he and his wife own, and will probably invest in more property.
The other winners said they will put their money to a variety of uses, from the frugal to the frivolous, with vacations and new cars high on the list. Jett and Stone both plan to take their parents to Europe, and a custom-made surfboard is in the works for Stone's 15-year-old son.
Debbie Moody, 35, vice president of a marketing and promotions group and a friend of the Jetts, said she plans to buy a Jeep. Charlie Jett's mother, Beatrice, 59, an individual ticket holder, said a face lift is on her agenda.
Urologist Piconi, who also owns the Piconi Winery in Temecula and was a first-time Lotto player, said he will put the money toward his children's educations. Intensive care nurse Dorie Dunn, who has five children and is soon to be a grandmother, said her money will buy a red sports car.