For Sheelah Ryan, winner of Florida's $55.1 million lottery, it was a day of firsts and a new beginning. For janitor Charles Hill, whose lottery ticket was invalidated, it was the end of a four-day fling.
"I've had three firsts today," Ryan, a real estate agent from Winter Springs, told reporters Wednesday at the Florida Lottery office. "It was my first plane ride; second, this is my first press conference, and No. 3, I've never won $55.1 million before."Ryan, 63, who lives in a trailer park in the Orlando suburb of 21,000, said she wrote down the first six numbers she came across in last Friday's Orlando Sentinel and went to a local grocery store, as she does every week, to play the lottery.
Ryan said she bought five $1 tickets, one with the combination from the newspaper and four with other numbers, to win the richest lottery prize in North American history. She will collect $2,767,361 a year for the next 20 years before taxes.
She declined to give much information about her background but said she has no children and is not married.
When she realized she had won while watching the televised Saturday night drawing, Ryan said, "I sat holding my head in my hands for about an hour saying . . . `Oh my God.' "
Ryan said she has been too dazed to plan what she will do with the money and said she has not decided whether to quit her job with Bowles Realty. But asked if she will continue playing the lottery, she said, "I sure will. I'm buying my ticket on Friday."
The previous North American rec-ord for a lottery jackpot was the $51.4 million grand prize shared by an Air Force mechanic and a grocery clerk in California's Lotto 6-49 on June 4, 1988.
Hill's claim evaporated after a photocopy of what he said was the winning lottery ticket was disqualified. Since the winning numbers were announced Saturday night, Hill had convinced neighbors and business owners in Liberty County that he was a multimillionaire-to-be and bought two vans valued at $44,000 on credit.
On Wednesday, after receiving the photocopy from Hill, Lottery Department general counsel Tom Bell said the department was considering pressing charges against him. Bell said the copy showed a ticket that had the winning numbers in the wrong sequence. Lotto tickets are always printed with the numbers in ascending order.