Michigan ‘hillbilly’ claims $337 million Powerball prize

LANSING, Mich. — Donald Lawson decided to have a little bit of fun with his mother two weeks ago.

“I called her and said, ‘I got a surprise for you. I won $200,000 in the Powerball.’ She goes: ‘Oh my god. Yay!’ I said, ‘All right. Are you ready, Ma? Well, the truth is, I won $337 million and $4 in the Powerball. Ha, ha.”

Ha, ha indeed.

The 44-year-old father of two and self-described “hillbilly” from Lapeer, Mich., claimed his prize Friday — the third largest in the game’s history — in a lump-sum, $224.6 million payment that works out to $158.7 million, after taxes.

Scheduled to work the midnight shift at the railroad, where he was an engineer, Lawson informed his boss that he wouldn’t be in that night, or any other, for that matter. He told his immediate family members that they too should “retire.”

“My living situation will greatly improve,” a smiling Lawson said during a news conference Friday at the Michigan Lottery’s headquarters, in Lansing.

Lawson, who grew up in Fort Smith, Ark., said he has a lot more money, but it won’t change who he is. He said the first thing he bought when he learned he had the winning ticket was a pack of gum.

“Yeah, I’m a millionaire now, but I’ll still (go to) McDonald’s. I don’t like filet mignon or lobster. A simple life. That’s what I want to continue to do,” he said.

Lawson admitted to playing the lottery “too much” — although some might argue that he played it just the right amount.

He said there was a long line when he walked into the Sunoco gas station in Lapeer on the day he bought his winning ticket for the Aug. 15 jackpot. Lawson said he decided to wait it out, saying he felt “guided” to stick around and to select the winning numbers: 6, 27, 46, 51, 56 and Powerball 21. The gas station receives a $50,000 bonus for selling the ticket.

Standing with three family members on Friday, Lawson described the moment the day after the drawing when he learned his life was about to change.

“I started reading backwards, and I kinda lost my breath,” Lawson said, noting that he hid the winning ticket inside a Bible, under a couch and atop a refrigerator before he ultimately locked it away in a bank.

Lawson said he doesn’t know what he’ll do with the money, but he plans to travel.

“I’m going to escape for now and go somewhere safe and think about it and go from there,” he said, adding that he plans to leave Lapeer, a city 45 miles northeast of Detroit where he’s lived for a decade.

Lawson said he knows his winnings won’t last long if he isn’t careful, and he remarked jokingly about how the government immediately claimed its share in taxes.

“I’m kinda pissed at Uncle Sam,” he quipped.

Surrounded by reporters and television news cameras and crews, Lawson said Friday that he looks forward to putting the notoriety that has come with winning behind him and resuming a normal existence.

“I’m an alone person. That’s what I want to be. I don’t like this chaos, but I have to do it,” he said.

Lawson’s is by far the largest single lottery prize ever awarded in Michigan, surpassing a $208 million Mega Millions jackpot awarded to Ralph and Mary Stebbins in 2005.

The top Powerball prize ever awarded was $365 million.

The largest U.S. lottery prize ever won was a March Mega Millions jackpot of $656 million, which was divided among three separate winners.

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