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In Michigan, $337-million Powerball jackpot sparks lottery frenzy

August 18, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson | This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

In the crowded downtown streets of Lapeer, Mich., one question rose Friday above the tinny din and excited shrieks of the town’s annual summer carnival.

Who's the lucky winner?

Everyone in town knows the story. Someone shelled out $2 at a Sunoco gas station this week and hit the jackpot. The $337-million payout from the Michigan Powerball is the third-largest in the game’s history. The owner of the winning ticket could claim a lump sum of $241 million.

What the town doesn’t know is the winner’s identity.

“We’re in an absolute lottery frenzy,” City Manager Dale Kerbyson told the Los Angeles Times.

The sleepy town of 9,000 lies nestled in the “thumb” of Michigan, about 45 miles north of Detroit. Lapeer is flat, hot and quiet. There have been lottery winners before -- $1 million, $4 million -- but never like this.

When the town got news of the jackpot, phone lines lit up and rumors began to swirl.

One teenager posted a Facebook status update bragging that he had won. His house got so many phone calls that his parents made him delete the post.

During Lapeer Days, a three-day summer festival in the city’s downtown area, journalists hoping to strike it lucky and get an interview with the winner mingled with families, jugglers and clowns.

Residents eyed one another with frank curiosity. Could the woman with the cotton candy be millions of dollars richer? Could the man who won at skeeball have bigger winnings waiting?

As Kerbyson drove his family to dinner Thursday night, he said, even his 7-year-old daughter peered out the window, pointed at pedestrians and asked her father: Is that the winner?

“You can’t help it,” Kerbyson said. “When you’re stopped at the stoplight, you can’t help but look over at the other car and wonder, ‘Are they they one? Are they driving to the gas station to pick up their prize?’ ”

Reporters and locals descended on the Sunoco station on Main Street. Customers filtered through the attached convenience store to buy snacks, pay for gas and congratulate the owners.

The congratulatory call from the Michigan Lottery Commission came at 5 a.m. Wednesday. The station will receive $50,000 as a reward for vending the winning ticket.

Even City Hall is talking about how it would spend the money. If the owner of the winning ticket lives in town, the city will net an extra $2 million in taxes, Kerbyson said. Conveniently, that’s the price of a road repair the city has been eyeing for years.

The winning numbers were 6, 27, 46, 51 and 56, and Powerball number was 21. The mystery winner has a year to claim the money.

[For the record, 4:12 p.m. Aug. 18: An earlier version of this post stated that the winner paid $1 for a Powerball ticket. Tickets cost $2.]

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Follow Laura on Twitter. Email: laura.nelson@latimes.com

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