BEEBE, Ark. (AP) — When she plucked a winning lottery ticket out of the trash, Sharon Jones' luck changed instantly. The $1 million prize let her pay off debts, give thousands of dollars to her children and buy a gleaming new pickup truck.
But now her jackpot is in jeopardy. A judge ruled this week that the money belongs to another woman, who says she threw the ticket away after a lottery machine incorrectly told her it was a loser. The Arkansas Lottery Commission insists there are no problems with its equipment.
"Why does she have the right to come back after she's already thrown it away and say, 'Oh no. Now that it is a winner, I want the money?'" said Jones' husband, William, who was laid off last year after working in construction.
Sharon Jones claimed the $1 million prize last July, turning in a scratch-off "Diamond Dazzler" ticket that the other woman, Sharon Duncan, said she purchased earlier at the Super 1 Stop convenience store in Beebe, about 35 miles northeast of Little Rock.
Duncan told a judge she discarded the ticket after an electronic scanner told her it was "not a winner."
"And then the next thing you know, 10 months later, you're fighting for something that was trash," William Jones said.
Years ago, Sharon Jones quit her job washing dishes at a cafe in nearby Searcy to tend to her father-in-law as he was dying from a lung disease. She often collected discarded lottery tickets because they can qualify for secondary prizes. What used to be her father-in-law's bedroom now contains three large plastic bins full of thousands of old tickets — and a copy of the winning ticket.
Jones discovered the ticket was a winner when the state's database wouldn't let her enter the ticket number.
The state Lottery Commission said it is confident its machines work properly. "We've never had a report of a mis-scanned ticket," spokeswoman Julie Baldridge said.
William Jones said the couple was living paycheck-to-paycheck before hitting the jackpot. After the two claimed their prize money, they looked to buy a house to replace the ranch-style home they live in now.