Couple still dazed over big Lotto payoff

December 24, 1996|By Peter Jensen and John Rivera | Peter Jensen and John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A Southern Maryland couple driving to visit relatives in Ocean City made a very good decision last week.

By stopping at the 7-Eleven convenience store in Salisbury to buy Lotto tickets, Matthew and Michele Neel became $12 million richer yesterday. They were the sole winners in Saturday's Lotto drawing. The jackpot will pay the couple about $600,000 per year for the next 20 years.

Matthew Neel, 30, who is employed by the Department of Defense as an aerospace engineer, told lottery officials he used the last four dollars in his pocket to buy the tickets with randomly chosen numbers. The Neels, residents of Lusby in Calvert County, realized they won Sunday night.

"I started to make dinner, and my husband got on the Internet to look up the numbers," said Michele Neel, 31. "At first, he thought maybe there was a computer error, that he logged on wrong."

The realization that this was no mistake brought on an exhilaration that hadn't subsided last night. "It's only been about 24 hours. It hasn't sunk in yet," Michele Neel said. "We're in a daze, a little bit of a stupor."

The Neels are regular lottery players. "We have a yearly subscription. And occasionally, on a whim, we'll buy some tickets if the jackpot's up," Mrs. Neel said.

Michele Neel, a landscape designer, said she would likely use some of the winnings to start her own firm. Matthew Neel said he has no plans to leave his job, but the avid fisherman and crabber said the money will fulfill his lifelong dream of being able to buy a house on the water.

Meanwhile, the multi-state Big Game did not produce a winner in Friday's drawing so this Friday's jackpot will be worth an estimated $20 million.

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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