Includes video report
Parlier, California, resident Elida Betancourt isn't going to get the $54 million she thought she won in this week's lottery when her newspaper printed the wrong winning numbers. But she will get something.
After hearing about Betancourt's illusive brush with fortune, two local businessmen have stepped up to give the 69-year-old Betancourt the first thing she had planned to spend her apparent Mega Millions jackpot on: a new roof.
"Because I own a roofing company and thought I could put some joy back into her heart, I wanted to do this," said Ryan Lee, owner of Allstate Roofing, which is teaming up with materials company ABC Supply for the job.
Lee, an occasional lottery player himself, said he can't imagine the letdown he would experience if he thought he hit it big, then learned otherwise.
And that's just how it felt, Betancourt said.
"I almost had a heart attack when I first saw the numbers, and I'm still trying to relax," Betancourt said Friday.
The retired fruit packer, who has been playing the lottery for years, matched one of her Mega Millions picks for Tuesday's drawing with the winning numbers printed in Wednesday's Bee.
"When I saw the six numbers, I started screaming and screaming," she said. "I got down on my knees to give thanks to God and my husband."
Her husband of 51 years died this summer, and she had thought he was looking out for her.
"We had known we needed a new roof," added Betancourt, who lives in a working-class Parlier neighborhood. "When I saw the winning numbers, the first thing I thought of was: 'I have the money to fix the roof.' "
Several family members came to the house and joined her in celebration Wednesday. That's when her son went to a nearby liquor store and learned that the wrong numbers had been printed.
Bee Executive Editor and Senior Vice President Betsy Lumbye apologized to Betancourt that day.
"We were just sick to hear not only that we had published the wrong numbers, but worse, that the error had caused someone such a crushing disappointment," Lumbye said. "We set out to find what had gone wrong and were puzzled because everyone had followed every editing protocol, down to rechecking each other's work against the lottery website."
The error, she explained, happened when the California State Lottery website didn't refresh as it normally does. As a result, the Mega Millions numbers for Tuesday's drawing that appeared on the website — and were printed in Wednesday's Bee — were from the prior Friday drawing.
The Bee is changing its procedures for additional safeguards.
A representative from the state lottery said some players reported similar problems, but the hitches were temporary.
No other newspaper printed the incorrect numbers, lottery spokesman Russell Lopez said.
Still, the state lottery on Friday introduced a new website for posting winning numbers. The change, Lopez said, was not directly motivated by the error at The Bee, but said it would help prevent the problem that happened this week.
In another stroke of misfortune for Betancourt, she didn't play her regular numbers last Friday — including the winning combination of 7, 12, 19, 23, 31 and Mega number 45.
"For some reason, I didn't have the cards with me, so I just got a $10 Quick Pick that day," she said.
Betancourt said she wishes she could win the lottery but will appreciate a new roof.
She can expect to see it the first week of October, said Mike Firpo, a managing partner of ABC Supply Inc. in Fresno. Firpo learned about the mix-up from his neighbor, Will Fleet, The Bee's publisher.
ABC Supply is providing materials for the job while Allstate Roofing is doing the work — a project valued at about $12,000.
"It's just the core values of our company to give back to our community," Firpo said Friday. "And I can imagine the roller coaster ride this woman has been on."
Thanks to TigerAngel for the tip.