MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A West Virginia Powerball lottery winner known for his generosity recently turned his charitable ways toward the purchase of new vehicles and equipment for area fire departments.
On Thursday, W. Randy Smith gave away a lot more of his money, this time, a little more than $1 million.
Six Berkeley County fire departments each got a Ford F-350, four-wheel-drive, four-door pickup truck equipped with snow plows and walk-behind snow blowers.
The idea of such specially equipped vehicles is to plow a path for following ambulances and emergency vehicles to ensure that they can get to a victim's home, Smith said.
Emergency crews can use the snow blowers to clear a path to the door. "I remember last year's blizzards. I was stuck at home like everybody else, and I had my scanner on. Emergency crews were not able to get through the snow," he said. He remembers thinking during the storm that if he ever won the lottery, he'd buy the county's fire departments vehicles that could plow through heavy snow.
Fifteen months later, Smith made good on his fantasy after winning $79 million on Aug. 23 in the Powerball lottery and ending up with $44 million before taxes by accepting a lump-sum payment.
The six trucks, costing a total of $240,000, were delivered by Smith in a ceremony on a Raleigh Street parking lot Thursday afternoon.
All came fully equipped, down to the color scheme and lettering of the individual departments.
Ed Gochenour, deputy director of Berkeley County's Emergency Management, showed off his company's new truck. It will replace an aging 1986 unit in Co. 90.
The new trucks will assist the fire companies' mainline vehicles or function as a substitute for larger fire engines when a smaller truck will suffice for a call, such as in the cleanup of an fuel spill, Gochenour said.
One department plans to use its new truck for brush fires, he said.
Smith's largess also included new four-wheel-drive ambulances for the Hedgesville and Baker Heights fire departments for a combined cost of $280,000.
He also announced Thursday the $220,000 purchase of an armored personnel carrier for the SWAT teams to rescue victims in hostage situations or in a firing zone.
"It's a military-based vehicle capable of surviving a 50-caliber round," Smith said.
Although based in Berkeley County, the unit can be used anywhere in the state. It's the only one in West Virginia, he said.
Also thanks to Smith, a $150,000 mobile forensic law-enforcement unit to preserve and transport crime scene evidence is now in the hands of the West Virginia State Police in Martinsburg and will be available for detachments in nine eastern counties.
In addition, the Martinsburg City Police Department is getting a live-scan fingerprinting system and improvements to its firing range for a total gift of $100,000. "I wish we had some of these things when I was in the sheriff's department," Smith said.
Smith began his philanthropic effort last year by establishing the W. Randy Smith Family Fund with $5 million.
In November he donated $500,000 to the Hospice of the Panhandle's building fund.
Smith, 63, graduated from Martinsburg High School in 1965 and worked at Corning Glass for 10 years. He followed that with a 12-year career as a Berkeley County deputy sheriff.
In 2000, he was elected sheriff and re-elected in 2004. In 2008 he was elected to a four-year term as a Berkeley County magistrate, but stepped down after he won the Powerball.
Popular in the community even before he became rich, he said his wealth has some good points and some not-so-good. He's always bought lottery tickets and still does, Smith said.
"One day I was in line at a convenience store to buy a ticket when a woman behind me I didn't even know started to chew me out. She asked me if I didn't think I already had enough money and that I was being greedy," he said. "I don't know of a rule that says you can't have too much money, or you can't do too much good. If I win more money, I could build the whole hospice building."
He said another bother is that people often approach him asking for money for all kinds of reasons. "They think of me as a walking ATM machine," he said.
Friends say that to know Randy Smith now is to see him much like he was before he won all that money.
He still lives in the same house he had before the lottery. And far-off vacations don't interest him, he said. "I've only been away from home once, to Ocean City for three days.
Someday, I'd like to see my own country, but I'd drive," he said.
However, his newfound wealth did teach him one thing, he said. "Money doesn't make you happier, but it does make living a lot easier."
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