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Small Michigan town wonders who is big jackpot winner

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LAPEER, Mich. — Work trucks with hound dogs riding shotgun rule the roads in Lapeer, where the corn stands taller than a junior high girl on a growth spurt. Behind white picket fences protecting comforting clapboard houses, flags sway patriotically in the breeze. Inside one of them, someone likely holds a $337 million secret.

Kismet struck in this farming town Wednesday night when a single ticket won the seventh-largest U.S. lottery prize and the third-largest Powerball jackpot in the game's history. Now the Sunoco gas station where the winning purchase was made is surrounded by TV satellite trucks and the locals here are abuzz. The station can claim a $50,000 bonus for selling the ticket.

Someone will eventually to come forward for such a lifetime of riches. But as of Thursday afternoon, nobody knew who. Is it a neighbor, a coach, your teacher, or hopefully, your very best friend?

"We are all curious as to who it could be because Lapeer is a small town and everyone knows everyone else," says Debra Fleming, a mother of twins from nearby Metamora who works for a Lapeer insurance agency. "We're all shocked that it happened in Michigan, in our little town."

Like many municipalities in the state, Lapeer has felt the budget pinch. It could earn up to $2 million in lottery tax revenue, so the whale of a windfall will ultimately be shared.

Lottery officials said it is not uncommon for a winner to wait several days before coming forward to claim the prize. Along with the single jackpot winner who picked 6, 27, 46, 51 and 56 -- plus Powerball 21 -- seven other winners from Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Virginia earned a million dollars apiece for the Match 5 prize. One more ticket purchased in Nebraska earned $2 million because of the Power Play option, which allows ticket buyers to pay more and doubles winnings.

Locals in Lapeer on Thursday were hoping the big jackpot winner is one of their own.

"People go through here all the time so you just don't know who it could be," mused Jim Sobek, the owner of innovative Construction as he slipped alongside his dog into the cab of his white pickup outside of the Sherwin Williams store near downtown.

He shook his head and grinned when asked whether he played this lottery, the biggest thing to happen in Lapeer since a local girl was named Miss Michigan in 2006.

"I should have bought a ticket there," he said. "I go past that store every day."

Tim Tremaine, a carpenter from Detroit, pumped gas at the lucky Sunoco store on Main Street on Thursday afternoon and was philosophical about a win, noting with so-what sadness that it wasn't going to be him.

"It's a blessing for sure. But it also could be a curse," he said. "The minute they announce the winner, every person that person knew from childhood and beyond is going to show up with his hand out, asking for a little charity. I wouldn't want to have to deal with that."

The eventual winner can make the choice of annual payments or a lump sum of about $241 million after taxes, state lottery officials said. Lottery rules, however, provide that the winner cannot remain anonymous, so soon enough the cat will be out of the bag for residents here who were already geared up to celebrate the annual Lapeer Days this weekend with a carnival and street fair.

Meanwhile, while hotly curious and happily gossiping, several townspeople said they hoped that whoever came up with the riches was someone who truly needed the money.

Others dreamed about how they would handle it. A new Ferrari? Finally living debt free? Or even college tuition for every grandchild? All possible, but at what price?

"I would worry about misfortune from the money," said Mrs. Fleming on the money's dark side. "We've all heard stories of how people hit the big jackpot and then lose it all or some tragedy strikes. The downside would probably be trying to stay true to myself and keeping the twins focused on still being hard workers and not getting spoiled."

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