In October Kevin Donovan became the talk of the town when he claimed to have thrown away a winning $1 million lottery ticket that another man found in the trash.
Now, while embroiled with the Massachusetts Lottery Commission in a battle to reclaim the ticket from the man who found it, Donovan has suffered the ultimate loss.
Just 49 years old, Donovan suffered a fatal heart attack while traveling in Hyannis on Tuesday, according toKate Donovan, his ex-wife. The couple had been divorced since 2002, and Kate Donovan said she had no interest — financial or otherwise — in her ex's legal bid to reclaim the ticket.
"He was optimistic about it," she said. "But he was a gambler. I'm a very risk-averse person."
Donovan's death does not necessarily mean the end of his claim, however.
Donovan had two children, including Dan Donovan, 20, who is considering pursuing his father's claim. As an heir and legal adult, he has the standing to do so, his mother said. At this point, however, he is undecided.
Kevin Donovan ran a gas station in town and lived with his son on Lincoln Street, according to Kate Donovan, of Indian Run Road in Bellingham.
News of Donovan's untimely demise took just about everyone involved in the lottery imbroglio by surprise.
"You gotta be joking," said Edward St. John, the 82-year-old man who discovered Donovan's jettisoned jackpot. "Is that official?"
St. John was reluctantly thrust into the national spotlight in early October when he discovered the ticket while making his usual rounds at the White Hen Pantry, a convenience store on Main Street where he regularly fishes through trash receptacles for discarded lottery tickets. Earlier, St. John found a $10,000 winner in the store's trash bin.
When St. John picked out a $1 million winner on the Texas Hold 'em Poker game, even Jay Leno and Good Morning America wanted to put him on TV — offers St. John has spurned. Upon learning of Donovan's untimely demise yesterday, St. John was very stingy with his expressions of sympathy for the man he blames for blocking his payday.
While St. John said he feels sorry for anyone who dies, he added that it's pretty hard to feel sorry "when they're trying to give you the business like he's been doing to me."
St. John said he would have been able to cash the disputed ticket long ago if it weren't for Donovan, and now he's just waiting for a call from the Massachusetts Lottery Commission to see what happens next. All he wants is to collect his winnings so he can share the windfall with other members of his family.
"This isn't fun for me," St. John said. "I just want to get this straightened out so I can live my life — what's left of it. I know my time is limited."
Donovan, through his lawyer, Dan Doyle, had claimed he inadvertently discarded the winning lottery ticket knowing it was a winner, but unaware of the actual size of the jackpot.
Donovan was said to have purchased every ticket on the White Hen Pantry's dispenser of Texas Hold 'em tickets on the day in question — about $600 worth. Among the evidence introduced to the Massachusetts Lottery Commission on his behalf was a security videotape from the store showing Donovan buying tickets.
Donovan had filed an appeal with the commission and, following a hearing in November, he and St. John had been waiting for a decision.
The ruling, however, was expected to be a mere prelude to yet another phase of the dispute in Superior Court. Despite granting Donovan an internal, administrative hearing, the commission had already announced publicly that St. John was entitled to the winnings because lottery tickets are "bearer instruments," payable to whomever is in possession of them.
Doyle did not return telephone calls for comment about the case.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Beth Bresnahan, spokeswoman for the lottery, said officials at the agency were also stunned by news of Donovan's death.
"When I told the paralegal her jaw just dropped, so this isn't something that happens very often," said Bresnahan. "This was an amazing story to begin with."
Such situations are so rare that Bresnahan could not initially say how Donovan's death would affect his appeal. But after researching the matter, she said that in the eyes of the law, Donovan's appeal is a property claim, meaning his estate — his heirs, in other words — have the option of pursuing it. A decision in the case is due next month, she said.
In addition to his son, Donovan also had a daughter, Lisa, 17, who lived with her mother in their yellow raised ranch overlooking Lake Hiawatha, Kate Donovan said.
Kevin Donovan would have turned 50 on Feb. 12. Lately, it seems, his family had been plagued by tragedy because his father, Francis Donovan, just passed away about two months ago, leaving his mother, Mary, alone, according to Kate Donovan. Francis Donovan was a well-known public servant in the Milford area, she said.
Kevin Donovan was traveling on Cape Cod with a girlfriend when he suffered a heart attack and was later pronounced dead at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, said his ex-wife. His body was to be cremated after his organs harvested for donation, she said.
Although Donovan had told his children that he had lost a $1 million lottery ticket, Kate Donovan said he never told her, at least face to face.
"He never had to," she said. "It was all over the news."