Winning the $8.9 million Maryland Lotto jackpot could not have happened at a better time for a young Middle River couple who were so hard-pressed to pay their bills that they applied for a loan last week and cashed in pennies from their 5-month-old son's piggy bank.
"Now, look what kind of piggy bank our son can have," said Lena M. Meeks, 22, as she and her husband, Billy Dean Howell Jr., 24, waited for lottery officials to confirm that they were indeed the sole bearers of the winning Lotto numbers: 01-03-05-42-46-49.
Ms. Meeks screamed hysterically Saturday night when she realized she held a winning ticket, said her father, Harry Meeks Jr., who accompanied his daughter, son-in-law and a newly appointed attorney to the state lottery office at 9:45 a.m. yesterday.
Mr. Meeks said the family was watching the drawing on television when his daughter went to get her son a bottle. In the midst of the chore, she stopped to check the numbers against the three Lotto tickets she had purchased earlier that day.
"All of a sudden I heard this screaming and hollering," Mr. Meeks said. "I went into the kitchen to ask my daughter what was wrong and all she could say was 'I d-d-d-did it,'" he said, mimicking the young woman stuttering in disbelief.
"Did what?" he asked.
"I hit the lottery. All six numbers," Ms. Meeks said to her father as she waved the winning ticket above her head.
Mr. Howell, an assistant manager at a small pizza shop, said his wife telephoned him moments later as he was leaving to make a delivery.
"She was crying so much I thought something had happened to the baby. But then she told me we had won," he said.
Eager to share his wife's excitement, Mr. Howell jotted down the numbers and went to the nearest liquor store, where a clerk confirmed he was a winner. He then went home, forgetting about the pizza in the back of his delivery truck.
Sometime late Mr. Howell apologetically delivered the cold pizza to the woman who had ordered it.
"I said I'm late but I've got a good excuse," he recalled. "Then, after I told her what happened, she said, 'I wouldn't have even delivered the pizza if I were you.'"
Carroll H. Hynson Jr., spokesman for the state lottery agency, confirmed yesterday that Mr. Howell and Ms. Meeks are the third largest Lotto winners with a single ticket in the history of the
In August, a Baltimore bachelor won $12 million, and in December another Middle River couple won $11 million. Mr. Hynson said Ms. Meeks and her husband will receive an initial payment of $451,000 Thursday and payments of $446,000 in each of the next 19 years, calculated before taxes.
Mr. Hynson said that Saturday's jackpot was increased by $900,000 the previous week after no one won the Sept. 8 drawing for $6 million. The following Sunday, sales increased rapidly, he said.
Mr. Howell and Ms. Meeks beat odds of 1 in 6.9 million to win the jackpot. Mr. Hynson said 123 ticket holders who matched five of the six numbers would receive $1,268 and 6,690 people who matched four numbers would receive $40 each.
Ms. Meeks, a secretary for the Baltimore County Police Department, said the winning ticket was one of three randomly picked tickets and three instant lottery tickets she purchased Thursday at McClean's Pharmacy in the Victory Villa Shopping Center in Middle River.
She bought the tickets with a few dollars left over from a $3,000 consolidation loan. The loan was barely enough to pay off one-third of the couple's bills -- even with their combined income of $30,000.
But that day seemed destined for good fortune, Ms. Meeks recounted. Standing in the drugstore, she scratched off one side of an instant lottery ticket and immediately won $50. Two days later, the Baltimore County couple would become millionaires.
Ms. Meeks and Mr. Howell both plan to quit their jobs in a few months so that they can stay home together to raise their son, Billy Dean Howell III.
After paying off their bills, they plan to build a house in southeastern Baltimore County where they can be close to Ms. Meeks' ailing parents, with whom they have lived since they were married 1 1/2 years ago.
Mr. Howell said he plans to return to college to obtain a business degree.
"I've been in the pizza business for six or seven years, and it'always been my lifelong dream to own my own shop," he said.
Mr. Howell and Ms. Meeks said their fortune is likely to change the way they live, but not who they are.
"We don't want to change," Ms. Meeks said. "We've asked our friends and family to tell us if they see any change in us that we don't. We're still the same people. It's just that now we'll be able to get things a little easier than before."