- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

WINFIELD, W.Va. — Brandi Bragg was a quiet 15-year-old with a big smile when her already wealthy, doting grandfather Jack Whittaker hit the $314.9 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas Day 2002.

Her family is planning a Christmas Eve funeral for Brandi, whose body was found earlier this week, more than two weeks after she was last seen.

In the days since the discovery, her family and others are trying to piece together the circumstances that led up to the girl’s tragic end at the age of 17.

Mr. Whittaker, who elected to take a $113 million lump sum payment after taxes, remarked in an interview last year that people had started to befriend his only granddaughter for her money rather than her personality.

Since his lottery win, she had moved into her own apartment and drove several vehicles, including a Hummer and Cadillac Escalade.

“She had too much money,” said Becky Layton, who cared for Brandi when she lived with her grandparents. “I could point fingers all day long; the money is the root of it all, I would say.

“The very first few weeks after she won the lottery, they would get $10,000 out during the day. It was between all of them,” Miss Layton said.

West Virginia State Police say Brandi’s Dec. 5 death is being treated as a missing person case that ended in death, not a homicide. A toxicology report pinpointing the cause is pending.

Her body was discovered wrapped in a sheet and plastic tarp, alongside a junked van parked at the home of Steve Crosier, a boyfriend’s father, in a rural area of Putnam County.

Mr. Crosier told the Associated Press that his son, Brandon, and Brandi were friends and had dated. “All I know is she OD’d and Brandon freaked out,” he told reporters shortly after the body was found. He later said he didn’t know how Brandi died.

State Police say Brandon Crosier moved Brandi’s body shortly after she died to the location where it was found. He has not been charged.

In September, Brandi’s friend Jesse Tribble, 18, was found dead in Mr. Whittaker’s Scott Depot home.

Jimmy Tribble said police reports he has seen indicated Brandi was with his son in the hours before he died of an accidental drug overdose. Mr. Whittaker was out of town at the time.

Jesse Tribble and Brandi met in middle school and renewed their friendship after her grandfather won the jackpot.

At one point, Mr. Tribble said his son announced he had been hired by Mr. Whittaker to be Brandi’s driver at $500 a day.

Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia, who is investigating Brandi’s death, declined to comment on a possible drug involvement.

While growing up, Brandi moved between her mother’s home in Hinton, a former railroad community of 2,800 in the New River area of southeastern West Virginia, and Mr. Whittaker’s home in Scott Depot, a bedroom community between the state’s two largest cities, Charleston and Huntington.

Her father died when she was young and her mother at one point was treated for cancer.

In an interview with the Associated Press last year, Mr. Whittaker said he regretted the toll the jackpot win was taking on his family. Of Brandi, he said, “She’s the most bitter 16-year-old I know.”

The Whittaker family did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Miss Layton remembers Brandi as someone who liked to dance, listen to music, go roller skating and to movies — Disney movies were her favorites. Brandi was 10 when Miss Layton started caring for her.

Even before Mr. Whittaker’s Powerball win, Brandi received enough money from her grandfather to take Miss Layton and her two children on vacations to places such as Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“I loved having her around,” Miss Layton said. “My kids loved having her here. She always made us laugh. She was a happy, happy girl.”

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