Being a good Samaritan may not pay off in money, but doing a good deed is reward enough for one store clerk who rescued a nearly $5 million lottery ticket from the trash and returned it to its rightful owner.
"It didn't even cross my mind to keep it. I just knew it was hers," said Sherry Brust, a customer service cashier at a Fred Meyer store in Port Orchard. "I'm just that type of a person. ... I like to help people."
Brust and another co-worker at the store sifted through a trash can last week and recovered Leonetta Garcia's winning Quinto ticket worth $4.86 million. Garcia had bought the ticket March 6 at the Fred Meyer store in Bremerton.
On Wednesday, Garcia, a 54-year-old Port Orchard resident, claimed a $3.645 million payout after taxes, money she would not have without Brust's quick thinking.
Brust said Garcia came in March 8 -- a day after the drawing -- and asked her to check three tickets.
"I got the message, 'Do Not Pay,' " Brust said, a standard message that pops up on the screen when the payout goes above $500.
Then the zeroes came up on the confirmation screen. At first, Brust thought Garcia had won $48,600.
"It was amazing when I saw the amount. I was trying to be really calm. I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, that's a lot of money.' "
Garcia left the store shell-shocked. A still-excited Brust said she then started wondering if Garcia had won the jackpot. A call to lottery officials confirmed her musings. That's when Brust realized Garcia had left with only the confirmation slip, not the ticket.
Both the winning ticket and a confirmation slip are needed to claim lottery awards.
Since winners who redeem their lower-paying tickets regularly throw them away in the trash bin next to the counter, Brust knew where to look first. Recruiting another co-worker to help while they juggled their regular duties, it didn't take them long to find the missing ticket.
"After we found it, we didn't want anything happening to that beautiful ticket -- it was quite a bit of money -- so my manager put it in the safe," Brust said.
Garcia called back and asked Brust how much she had won. Brust told her, "You won the whole thing."
Garcia returned to claim the ticket.
"She was like, 'I feel like a changed person,' " Brust said. "Her husband, he was so cute, he just kept telling her, 'Get that ticket!' But we told them, we got the ticket, it's OK."
Garcia changed her home phone number to a non-listed number, and she was not at her job in the dietary services department at the Washington Veterans Home in Retsil yesterday.
"We haven't seen her and we probably won't see her," said Lauralyn Grady, a dietician office assistant. "But we all really feel like she deserved it. We're happy for her."
The winner reveals story
"I can't believe this is happening," Garcia said. "It's unreal."
She decided to buy lottery tickets March 6 when she opened a fortune cookie that had "lucky" lottery numbers on the back of the fortune.
At a Fred Meyer store she got state Lotto and multistate Mega Millions tickets with the numbers, plus a Quinto ticket with a hand chosen by computer. Each Quinto ticket bears five cards from a standard deck, and a match of all five wins the top payout.
On March 8, a day after the drawing, she asked Sherry Brust, a Fred Meyer clerk, to check the tickets and learned she had a big winner.
"I checked the (Quinto) ticket and it said: 'Do not pay,'" Brust said. "I told her, 'Whoa, that's a lot of money.'"
Garcia grabbed Brust's hand in disbelief, Brust handed Garcia her redemption ticket and the winning Quinto ticket got mixed in with Garcia's losers.
"It was so fast," Brust said. "I was checking three tickets, I told her she was a winner and then she grabbed my hand and took off. It was a matter of seconds. I was in shock. She was in shock."
Realizing the big winner was in the trash, the clerk got some other Fred Meyer employees to help her recover it. No sooner had they found it then Garcia called and Brust told her it had been found and placed in the store's safe.
"I told her, 'I love you!'" Garcia said.
From there the ticket went into a safe deposit box while Garcia consulted a lawyer and financial adviser.
"I'm so used to being poor that I don't know what to do with this much money," she said. "I just feel like we're blessed, and we have money to do something with to enjoy life and take care of my family."