- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ATLANTA (AP) — An iron worker and his wife said their days of living paycheck-to-paycheck were behind them after presenting the winning ticket yesterday for a $275 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Robert and Tonya Harris said they also plan to replace their trailer home with a new house, and buy a new four-wheel-drive truck first thing this morning.

“I was having to work overtime to make ends meet,” said Mr. Harris, who quit his job as soon as he found out his lottery ticket was a winner. “Now we don’t have to do that.”

The jackpot is the largest won by a single player in the history of the 15-year-old Georgia Lottery and the third largest in Mega Millions history, lottery officials said.

“It’s awesome,” Mr. Harris, 47, told a room full of reporters after receiving the ceremonial big check from lottery officials. “We have been very blessed.”

He said he picked the winning numbers from Friday’s multistate drawing — 7, 12, 13, 19 and 22, plus the Mega Ball number 10 — by using his grandchildren’s birthdays.

Now they plan to use the windfall to send their grandchildren to college, Mrs. Harris said. They also want to share some money with other relatives.

“We’re not gonna change,” she said, wearing warm-up pants and flip-flops. “I’m too country.”

The couple spent Sunday night at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta before arriving at the lottery headquarters to claim their prize. Lottery officials say the couple decided to take the lump sum: $167 million before taxes. They could have chosen an annuity of $10.5 million a year for 26 years.

They bought the winning ticket at Clyde’s Market in Portal, a town of about 600 about 70 miles northwest of Savannah. Mr. Harris said they play the lottery “very seldom, but something just entered my mind” to play.

He had his wife buy two $1 tickets while she was grocery shopping.

Billy Hodges, general manager of Clyde’s Market, said the news of the jackpot on Saturday morning set the town abuzz.

“It happened to a nice lady; I think this lady really deserves it,” Mr. Hodges said.

A year ago, Ed Nabors from Rocky Face, Ga., won half of a $390 million Mega Millions jackpot — the richest lottery prize in U.S. history. The other half was claimed by Elaine and Harold Messner, a couple from Cape May County in New Jersey.

Mega Millions tickets are sold in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington state. The twice-weekly drawing is done in Atlanta.

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