PARAGOULD — Imagine carrying $250,000 in your wallet for several weeks and not realizing it. Such was the case with Greg Garner. Garner had purchased a Mega Millions lottery ticket in March before the drawing for the record $640 million jackpot. The ticket won $250,000, but Garner said he did not realize it until just recently.
"We usually don’t play the lottery," Garner’s wife, Toni, said. "But, (the jackpot) had gotten up to $640 million."
Garner said the $250,000 winner was only about the sixth lottery ticket he had ever purchased. He said he had only bought two tickets at the time he purchased the winning ticket.
"I just stuck them in my wallet and forgot about them," Garner said.
Garner said the winning ticket was in his wallet for about six weeks before his father-in-law, Randy Cooper, was admitted in a hospital after suffering a heart attack. He said while Cooper was recovering from bypass surgery, he mentioned a $250,000 winning ticket had been purchased in Paragould and no one had claimed it. Garner said that’s when he remembered buying the tickets and decided to return to the Kum and Go store where he had purchased them. He said the first ticket he scanned was not a winner, but the second one was.
"I was just standing there because Kum and Go is always busy," Garner said. "I thought I might’ve won a couple hundred dollars."
Garner said he scanned the ticket a second time to make sure it was a winner and that’s when a cashier noticed him and thought he was having a problem with the scanner. He said he gave the ticket to the cashier saying "I think I won something." Garner said the cashier "looked about as confused as I did" when she printed out the claim ticket. He said the claim ticket only had a serial number printed on it — which meant the amount was too large to be paid at the store.
"The guy standing next to me grabs me by the arm and said ‘You won it. I know you did,’" Garner said. "I said ‘Don’t say that.’ (The cashier) said ‘You’re going to have to go to Jonesboro.’"
Not having much experience with collecting lottery winnings, Garner said he contacted his mother, Delores Clayton, who looked online to find out how much the ticket was worth. Thinking he had to claim the prize in Little Rock, Garner said he contacted lottery officials there to explain his situation. He said the official he spoke to informed him he could claim the prize in Jonesboro.
"She (the lottery official) said ‘Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you,’" Garner said.
Garner said the official contacted the claim center in Jonesboro and they claimed their prize on Wednesday.
"It really wasn’t real (to me) until we picked it up," Toni Garner said. "It just didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real."
Garner said once he learned how much the ticket was worth, he researched what he should do with it before claiming the prize. Through his research, he said he learned the ticket should be kept in a safe place. Garner said he hid it in a plastic bag in the couple’s freezer. He said he kept the bag as a keepsake. Garner said he had also been in contact with financial advisers about what he should do with his winnings. However, he said much of the winnings would be used to pay bills. He said after taxes, his winnings amounted to $170,000.
"I’m probably going to invest close to half of it," Garner said. "We have to be smart about what we do."
Toni Garner said she recently graduated with a master’s degree in nursing from Arkansas State University and some of the winnings would be used to pay off credit card debt the couple accumulated while she was in school. Greg Garner said he had no plans to quit his job as a supervisor at Prestolite Wire.