Forty-four. A lucky number indeed.
It was one of six winning numbers in a recent $10-million Florida Lotto jackpot. It was also the number of local winners — 44 workers at University Community Hospital-Carrollwood.
The fortunate 44 struck it big Nov. 19, but waited until Tuesday to claim their lump-sum prize of nearly $5.9 million, which breaks down to nearly $134,000 per person.
To claim their winnings, they formed a group called the Surgical Services Lottery Trust. The winners want to remain anonymous, even after the Florida Lotto released a list of their names.
"Even with their names out there, they still don't want to be interviewed or want their pictures in the paper or anything," said Priscilla Neils, the hospital's director of surgical services. Although Neils wasn't one of the winners, she works with many of them.
The winners are trying to steer clear of gold diggers, estranged family members and other "opportunists," Neils said. "Plus they don't want to get robbed in the parking lot," she said with a chuckle.
Staying low-key may be a good idea, especially with the lottery win coming during the holidays, said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin. "The holidays bring out the best in people but also the worst in some people," he said.
Even with the group being wary of publicity, Neils said there has been a joyous mood at the hospital. Calling the group of winners "hard workers," she said "they're all very happy" about the win.
"It's not enough (money) to quit your job," said Neils, "but it's enough to make you happy."
The hospital hasn't had any resignations, said spokeswoman Phoebe Ochman.
The payday was a long time coming for the workers, who have been pooling their money to play the lottery for years.
Although the Florida Lotto estimates that each winner will end up with nearly $134,000, that approximation is slightly off, according to word around the hospital.
"They were charged an excise tax on the individual winnings. So $96,000 is closer to the fact," Neils said. "Still, it's enough to pay off your car, your house or send your kids to college."
The winning numbers were 05-10-27-44-45-50. The Kash n' Karry at 4519 Gunn Highway in Tampa sold the winning ticket and gets a $10,000 bonus.