Randolph and Sandra Whitehead planned to get out of their small house, buy a car they could depend on and pay their bills. After all, they had just won $250,000 in the North Carolina lottery.
But those dreams came crashing down when their road to riches took a sudden U-turn.
On May 1, Randolph Whitehead bought a scratch-off ticket at the Rocky Mount BP station on Centura Highway. They had the surprise of their lives.
"Me and her looked at it together," Randolph said. "I put on my glasses. She said, 'That's it, Randolph!'"
The matching numbers of the Lucky Times 7 ticket showed they won $250,000.
"And I held it and I held it and I held it and I held it," Sandra said. "I held the card so tight, I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head."
Afraid to rely on their old car, they took a cab to Raleigh. While at the Lottery Commission on May 2, the ticket was put through a computerized validation process. Nobody told the couple about the validation, Randolph said.
The husband-wife duo had their pictures made with the larger-than-life check. Before the third photo, they got the jolting news: The numbers didn't match.
"I said, 'Why did you take the ticket out of the room? Why didn't you let me know," Randolph said. "When you go to one of these stores, they validate the ticket right in your face."
According to Jerry Carter, director of security for the Lottery Commission, it was "an unfortunate misinterpretation and misunderstanding on the part of the player."
"A validation process takes several minutes," he said.
That's done after the winners fill out all their claims. But the computer scanner detected a discrepancy and did a secondary screening.
"We were able to determine that there was a microscopic piece of latex still on the lucky number area, and our prize analyst scraped that area and we were able to determine that the number 48 is in fact a 46," Carter said.
Cases like this are very rare, he said.
The commission sent the couple a letter: Verifying winning numbers "does not rely on eyesight," it said. The Whiteheads say the commission should have validated the tickets first, before all the photos and festivities.
"It was just snatched," Sandra said.
The lottery commission did agree to pay for the couple's $200 taxi fare.
The Whiteheads have tried to contact the Attorney General to help them in this case.