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Lottery officials' perseverance was woman's second stroke of luck

Julie Cervera's ticket worth $23 million had sat forgotten, along with hundreds of others she bought over the years. She plans to share the windfall with family.

November 03, 2012|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times
  • Julie Cervera of Victorville is flanked by her family at a news conference in San Bernardino. Lottery officials looked for her -- and her winning ticket -- for more than five months.
Julie Cervera of Victorville is flanked by her family at a news conference… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

For years, Julie Cervera has had a habit of buying lottery tickets and then never checking whether they were winners. By her estimate, she has 200 or so unchecked tickets lying around.

Cervera's strange ways nearly cost her a life-changing fortune, when a ticket worth $23 million sat forgotten in the glove compartment of her car for nearly 6 months. Luckily for Cervera, a 69-year-old grandmother who has been struggling to feed her family and pay the bills, lottery officials went out of their way to search for the owner of the unclaimed jackpot before the money was forfeited.

An elated — and relieved — Cervera came forward to claim her fortune Thursday. Surrounded by her children and grandkids, the Victorville resident recounted for KTLA-TV Channel 5 how the windfall came about because one of her daughters was feeling car sick as the two were driving on the evening on May 30. Cervera pulled her car into the parking lot of a Palmdale liquor store so the daughter, Charliena Marquez, could buy a bottle of water. As Marquez got out of the car, her mother gave her a dollar bill and asked her to buy a ticket for California's Super Lotto Plus.

She tossed the ticket in the car's glove compartment and promptly forgot about it. Hours later lottery officials drew the winning numbers — 14, 7, 26, 31, 23, 5.

As weeks turned to months and the lone winner failed to come forward, lottery officials went to work. Knowing which store had sold the winning ticket, they reviewed footage from the store's security camera and captured a grainy image of Marquez in the store.

As news outlets splashed Marquez's face on TV and in newspapers, her phone began to ring with calls from friends and relatives insisting it was her. At first, Marquez said, she refused to believe it was her. When she finally did look and remembered buying the ticket, she was overcome with a dreadful thought: Would her mom still have the ticket?

The panic that ensued was short-lived. Cervera popped open the glove compartment and found the ticket right where she had left it. "I know where I put my junk," she quipped.

Cervera said the money is a welcome relief from years of hardship. The windfall will be shared among the family members, she said, with a significant amount going toward securing long-term care for two disabled children she adopted.

As for those 199 or so other tickets she bought, "I'm going to check them," Cervera said with a smile.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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