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Powerball winner from Zephyrhills claims prize

TALLAHASSEE — Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to be polite.

The holder of last month's $590.5 million Powerball jackpot – the biggest payday for a single winner in history – finally claimed her prize Wednesday, saying she benefited from the kindness of a stranger.

Gloria C. Mackenzie, 84, didn't speak with reporters as she walked out of the Florida Lottery's Tallahassee headquarters, but she did release a written statement. She bought the winning ticket at the Publix supermarket near her home in Zephyrhills on May 18, the same day as the drawing.

“While in line at Publix, another lottery player was kind enough to let me go ahead of him to purchase the winning Quick Pick ticket,” Mackenzie said. Quick Pick means the lottery computer generates the numbers at random.

Mackenzie chose a lump-sum payment of slightly more than $370 million. Her take-home winnings will be about $278 million after the Lottery takes out the required 25 percent for federal taxes. Officials will wire the money to her bank account by Friday.

She surprised lottery officials by showing up in Tallahassee around noon Wednesday with her son Scott, with whom she is splitting the prize, as well as a “trusted family friend” and legal and financial advisers, said Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O'Connell.

Mackenzie said she had a winning ticket and asked to validate it. She proved her identity with a Florida driver's license, Lottery spokesman David Bishop said.

The winner had 60 days to claim the lump-sum option. When asked why Mackenzie waited nearly three weeks to step forward, O'Connell said, “This is a very large amount of money. It changes your life. They wanted to make sure they were ready to handle the responsibilities that come with that type of a jackpot win.”

Under state law, lottery winners cannot remain anonymous; their names and city of residence must be made public.

Reporters followed a stone-faced Mackenzie, wearing sunglasses and sneakers, out of the building as she walked to a waiting car. Some called out “congratulations” to her.
O'Connell said Mackenzie didn't share any plans of what she will do with the prize money.

Her statement referred questions to her attorneys at the Brant, Abraham, Reiter, McCormick & Johnson law firm and to Madden Advisory Services, her financial consultants, both based in Jacksonville.

Madden did not respond immediately to phone and email messages. A receptionist at the Brant law firm couldn't offer any further information: “We've been bombarded with phone calls.”

Mackenzie lives in a plain blue-gray duplex, in a part of town that neighbor Dawn Gourlay said “has security issues.” For instance, other neighbors said Mackenzie's air conditioner had been stolen recently. A sign on Mackenzie's front door says, “Private - No Soliciting.”

“She's a very sweet little old lady, kind of grandmotherly,” Gourlay said.
Zephyrhills, population about 13,000, is in eastern Pasco County and is best known for the bottled water that bears its name. By mid-afternoon, Mackenzie's name had been added to the list of “notable people” on the city's Wikipedia page.

Neighbors didn't offer many personal details about her.

“I'd wave and she'd go in the house after she waved at me and smiled and told me hello,” said James Hill, another neighbor.

Hill expected the neighborhood would be busier from a while.
“I've never seen her son, but I probably will see him now and grandkids and everybody else, and family we don't think is family,” he said.

Neighbor George Trapero, who occasionally runs errands for her, called Mackenzie “very, very nice” and “a lucky, lucky woman.”

“That is something everybody wants for their own, to win the lottery,” he said.
The winning numbers for the May 18 drawing were 10, 13, 14, 22 and 52, with a Powerball of 11. The odds of matching the five numbers and the Powerball were 1 in 175 million.

Forty-three states plus Washington, D.C., participate in the Powerball drawing. Florida has produced five winners, the most of any state, since the game was first offered in January 2009.

Publix got a bonus incentive of $85,000 for selling the ticket, according to a Lottery press release. The state will receive more than $50 million for Florida's Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.

Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vonnie Mikkelsen said she was thrilled by the local connection.

Regarding the person who unknowingly passed up a potential half-billion dollar payday, she said, “I think it's a cool story.

“(It's) representative of this community that we show good manners and etiquette even in the Powerball ticket line,” Mikkelsen added.
Rick Mayer and Tribune correspondent Gary S. Hatrick contributed to this report.
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