Combat engineer scoops up the final top prize in North Carolina instant game
By Kate Northrop
CRESWELL, N.C. — A veteran from Creswell, North Carolina was not even in the state when he found out he won a $1 million prize from a scratch-off lottery ticket. In fact, he completely forgot that he bought them in the first place, only to discover the winning ticket right before his return flight home to North Carolina from Colorado.
Yaheem Jones, formerly a combat engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps, got the biggest surprise on Veteran's Day when he found out he was carrying around a bunch of scratch-off tickets, not knowing that one of them was a winner for a $1 million prize.
"I bought the tickets before I left for Denver and just threw them in my book bag," he explained to the North Carolina Lottery. "I flew all the way to Denver with them and everything, and I didn't even know I was a winner until a couple of days later."
He purchased a variety of instant games from the Marks Supermarket on US-64 in Creswell before his trip to Colorado. The most lucrative ticket turned out to be from the $10 "Red Hot Riches" game, which the Lottery will now begin to retire since Jones won the fourth and final top prize. The game was launched in May of this year.
In a press release, Jones told the Lottery that he was cleaning out his bag before his return flight home and rediscovered the scratch-off tickets he had initially thrown in it.
"I had the flight pass, my itinerary, my checked bag passes, and I see the tickets," he recounted.
Scratching them off one-by-one, it finally came down to the "Red Hot Riches" game.
"At first, I didn't believe it," Jones said. "I thought it was a joke."
He recalled that the flight back to North Carolina was the most "nerve-wracking" trip home, knowing that he literally held $1 million in his pocket the entire time.
"I didn't take my hand out of my pocket," he laughed. "Not one whole time!"
Jones was able to breathe a sigh of relief when he claimed his prize at Lottery headquarters in Raleigh on Tuesday. He was given two choices — take the $1 million as an annuity of 20 annual payments of $50,000 or a lump sum worth $600,000. Deciding on the lump sum, he scored $424,503 after state and federal taxes.
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran plans to put most of the prize money into his savings, remarking that the winnings earned on Veteran's Day will certainly "help a lot."