Retired US couple claims $157.9m jackpot

2012-04-19 13:11
Red Bud - A retired couple in a southern Illinois town claimed their one-third share of a record $656m Mega Millions lottery jackpot on Wednesday, saying they would invest most of the windfall and possibly buy a new car.

Merle Butler, aged 65, a former insurance agent, and Patricia Butler, aged 62, who worked at several companies, retiring nearly five years ago from investment firm Edwards Jones, are the only winners of the 30 March jackpot to publicly identify themselves.

Illinois requires winners' identities to be revealed. The holders of the two other winning tickets, in Kansas and Maryland, chose to remain anonymous.

The one-third of the prize won by the Butlers would amount to $218.6m if paid in 26 annual instalments. They chose, however, to take a lump sum payment of $157.9m, which will be reduced to $110.5m after federal and state taxes.

At a news conference in Red Bud, located about 58km south of St Louis, Merle Butler said he usually only plays the lottery when the jackpot hits about $150m.

"I was retired but now it looks like I have a new full-time job," said Merle Butler, aged 65, referring to managing the money. The couple waited three weeks to come forward after the drawing in order to consult financial and legal advisors, he added.

Quiet people

The Butlers plan to make no major changes in their lives and said they would use some of the money to help their children and grandchildren.

Married for 41 years, the couple has spent all their lives in Red Bud, a tidy farming and manufacturing community of 3 700 people that is named for the trees that tower over the town.

"They are quiet people. I don't see them much, but they do go camping a lot," said Mark Lettman, who lives across the street from the couple on the prosperous west side of town.

A camper was parked in the driveway on Wednesday and two flags flapped in the yard - the US flag and another honouring Vietnam War era POW-MIAs.

Vic Mohr, aged 87, who owns the local weekly newspaper, the North County News, described the Butlers as "quiet, just good people" and church-goers who kept to themselves. Another resident said the couple attended an evangelical Christian church.

Merle Butler said the numbers on the winning ticket - 02, 04, 23, 38, 46 and (23) - came from a Christmas card mailed to him by a close friend who served with Butler during the Vietnam War. He reviewed the ticket after the winning numbers were broadcast and told his wife, "We won."

Unbelievable

They could not sleep that night. Patricia Butler said she spent most of the night and morning nervously giggling.

In the morning Merle Butler took the ticket to his lockbox at the bank in town, which already was crawling with reporters who heard that the winner of the prize was in Red Bud. He ran into a bank employee who asked him if he was locking up the winning ticket.

"That's right, we've got the winner," Butler recalled telling the bank employee, who apparently did not believe him.

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