A tightknit 11-member California Lottery pool has claimed the lucky Powerball ticket sold in Chico that won $4.9 million in the draw on August 1! The men and women, all current or former workers of Northern Valley Indian Health, say they have been playing Lottery together for four years and have a connection that extends beyond winning.
The group, led by their lottery captain Emilio Montoya, claimed their ticket at the California Lottery’s Sacramento District Office on August 7. They explained that they each chip in $3 a week so Montoya can purchase Powerball and SuperLotto Plus® tickets, and that allows them to share in the fun and to dream. “You walk by people that are playing as well, and you know, there’s always that glimmer of hope in their eyes,” Janine Cuellar said about the shared excitement on draw days.
To get this win, Montoya was using random numbers he picked on his own a while back and has simply continued playing them. “It hit, you know. I can’t get over it,” Montoya said in disbelief. “Yeah, man. It’s a big, big deal.”
The group’s ticket matched the numbers: 5-38-22-58-32, missing only the red Powerball number 26. They split a prize of $4,927,915 (before federal taxes). Montoya and another co-worker discovered the win the next day. “We hugged, we laughed, and we hugged. And we’re like, there’s no one in the building to tell!” Jack Cook said of their early morning exchange.
What followed was a flurry of phone calls to the others, the majority of whom were convinced they were being pranked by their workmates, as is typical of the group. “Everybody was bouncing off the walls. And finally, you just kind of have to believe, okay, this isn’t a cruel joke,” Brandi McFarland said with a smile.
A win of this magnitude means something different to each of them. There was talk of purchasing a home, paying off bills or mortgages and taking a trip with the family. “I used to joke with [Emilio] that I had dreams that they were going to call me one day. Never in a million years did I think my dream would come true,” Ebelia Villegas said.
Amidst the laughter and celebration, Sherron Prosser took a moment to reflect. She no longer works with the group, but remains connected through their Lottery pool. August 1 is significant in that it is also the date that 12 years ago her daughter perished in a car accident. “I think part of it is my daughter saying, ‘Don’t grieve anymore. You can’t grieve this day, you’ve got to celebrate a little bit,’” Prosser said, before allowing herself to join the others in a joyous photo. “I couldn’t have a better group to win with, because they’re all really good friends.”