A winning $1 million scratch-off lottery ticket picked out of a gas station trash can has become the subject of a three-way legal battle in Arkansas.
Sharon Jones was at a Super One Stop in July 2011 in Bebee, Ark., when she went to a trash can to pick up a handful of discarded lottery tickets, as she had done many times before, according to her attorneys.
A program through the Arkansas lottery commission website allows people to register non-winning tickets for points that they can use towards prizes.
“On Sunday, as was a routine, my client and her husband sit around and enter these tickets in the program,” Sharon Jones’ attorney, Winston Collier, said. “[The program] wouldn’t give them points on this one ticket in particular.”
The couple realized the problem was that the ticket was not completely scratched off.
“It was, in fact, not a losing lottery ticket and not only that, but it’s worth a million dollars,” Collier said. “Thus a controversy was born.”
Sharon Jones turned in the ticket and received a check for $680,000. After the check was issued, the lottery commission began the process of confirming all winning tickets and in the course of the investigation, surveillance footage showed Jones grabbing a handful of discarded tickets from the trash can.
After seeing the footage, the store manager, Lisa Petriches, claimed that customers were not allowed to take tickets from trash can and that tickets thrown in the trash belonged to her.
A month after Sharon Jones collected her check, Petriches filed a lawsuit against her, claiming that the winning ticket was hers. Petriches also claimed that there was a “Do Not Take” sign on the bin.
“We really don’t believe that Lisa Petriches has any claim whatsoever,” Jones’ attorney said. “She’s saying those tickets were hers, but you’ve got all these people saying they weren’t.”
Attorneys for Sharon Jones have lined-up several regulars from the store who are willing to testify that it is common practice for customers to grab tickets from the trash can for the points. They all agree there was no sign telling them not to take the trash until after Sharon Jones won.
“Our theory is that it was abandoned property,” Jones’ attorney says. “Once someone has abandoned it, it becomes the property of the first possessor.”
“From our perspective, the person who won is the winner, the person who brought it in,” Julie Baldridge, the interim director of public affairs and legislative relations for the Arkansas Lottery Commission said. “We don’t take a position on ownership. It’s whoever comes to our claims office with their signature on the back.”
Baldridge said that legally, it’s up to a judge to decide who the ticket belongs to.
A third party entered the equation this week. Sharon Duncan claimed that she was the one who originally purchased the ticket and that the jackpot is rightfully hers. The attorneys are meeting with the lottery commission on Monday to determine if there is any way to confirm the ticket’s ownership.
The two parties originally involved in the case appeared before a judge on Wednesday, but were dismissed after the judge expressed concern that not all of the necessary parties were present, alluding to Sharon Duncan and her claim of ownership.
The $680,000 winnings are frozen as the case makes its way to court.
According to Sharon Jones’ attorney, since receiving the check for the winnings, besides buying a used car, she has not spent any of the money.
The next court date has not yet been set.
(((So which woman should get the ticket – the one who took it out the trash and discovered it was a winner; the one who manages the store and claims all trash is hers; or the one who claims to have bought the ticket but threw it away? You decide!)))