Even on one of the best days of his life, Virginia lottery winner James Featherston remains haunted by one of the worst days of his life - the day, three months ago, when his wife and son were involved in a serious wreck on U.S. 29.
Featherston, 69, and his wife, Martha, both of Lynchburg, won the $17.6 million Lotto South drawing held Sept. 17. They and their son, James Jr., were at Hotel Roanoke on Monday afternoon for a check presentation ceremony led by Virginia Lottery Executive Director Penelope Kyle.
When asked about the crash, Featherston became consumed by emotion, even as he held the oversized check that symbolized his prize.
"I could've lost both of them," he said, and later whispered, "Money ain't everything."
"I'm just glad to be here right now," said James Jr., 26, who suffered head injuries in the wreck and says he's still recovering. But both he and his family take an optimistic view of their newfound wealth.
"It's not going to change us that much," he said, citing their strong family ties. "We've been all right from the beginning."
The Featherstons are taking a cash option of $9.55 million before taxes. Forty percent of that will be withheld for federal taxes and 5.75 percent for state taxes; they've received an initial payment of $328,755, and that will be followed by a payment of $4.85 million. The couple requested that the amount be split into two checks, one for each of them, for just over $2.4 million.
"Me and my wife share whatever we have," said James.
Martha, however, was originally against the idea of buying a lottery ticket.
"We don't buy them often," James said. On the Tuesday before the drawing, though, the retired, 36-year employee for Bell Atlantic felt lucky.
"He had a feeling about winning," said Martha.
James went to the Kroger on Boonsboro Road in Lynchburg and bought a Lotto South ticket and a Big Game ticket. He used the computer's "Easy Pick" function, which randomly selects a number. And then he put the tickets on his dresser and forgot about them; he didn't even watch the drawing.
It wasn't until he heard on the news that the Boonsboro Road Kroger had sold a winning ticket that he decided to check his numbers. They matched. The house, which was being visited by the Featherstons' three daughters who had lost power during Hurricane Isabel, quickly filled with celebration.
"We still couldn't believe it," James said. "Even after we read it."
The Featherstons say they've already paid their bills and now plan to travel, help friends and family and support their church, First Baptist of South Lynchburg.
"I'm still in a daze," said Martha. "I'm still clipping coupons out of the paper. I'll continue to do that."
But on Monday, their winnings in hand, all three knew where they were headed next.
"We'll go get some lunch," said James.
Seth M. Gitner/The Roanoke Times
Martha Featherston comforts her husband, James, as he sheds a tear after a press conference Monday at Hotel Roanoke. James Featherston had the winning Lotto South ticket in the Sept. 17 drawing. The Featherstons live in Lynchburg.