N.J. group collects Powerball winnings

The 16 jackpot winners were all smiles as they appeared at the Ocean County Public Library.
The 16 jackpot winners were all smiles as they appeared at the Ocean County Public Library. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)
Posted: August 15, 2013

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - Hurricane Sandy wiped out the homes of a few members of a tight-knit group of 16 local vehicle service maintenance workers, who will now split the winnings of a New Jersey Powerball lottery ticket valued at $86,054,355 before taxes.

That's roughly $3.87 million per member of the group, which dubbed itself Ocean's 16 - and enough for Darlene Riccio to buy a new home or two or three after the hurricane on Oct. 29 ravaged her rental apartment above a storefront in Brick.

"I can't describe the feeling," Riccio said Tuesday as she fought back tears on a stage before a phalanx of TV cameras at the Ocean County Public Library. "The first thing I'm going to do is buy me and my daughter a home and bring my dog back home."

She and her Ocean's 16 brethren were formally introduced by New Jersey Lottery executive director Carole Hedinger.

Each filed onto the stage with a huge grin and giant check for the full $86 million amount written out. A "Jersey Strong, Jersey Lucky" poster by the lottery was behind them.

"To have the kind of year we had, with our lives turned upside down by Superstorm Sandy, and to have this happen - there are no words," Riccio said. "I'm still in shock."

She wasn't the only one with a heart-tugging twist-of-fate story.

Another winner - Barbara Jo Riivald - happens to be the daughter of the "Father of the New Jersey Lottery" - the late State Sen. John F. Brown (R., Ocean), who authored the legislation to make the lottery possible and was an early proponent of casino gambling in Atlantic City.

"I called my sister and told her I won," said Riivald as she, too, wiped away tears. "And she said, 'Oh my gosh, Barb, Dad must be smiling down. It's his lottery.' "

Riivald said her only regret was not being able to call her father and mother, who both recently died, to share the news: "He was my hero. I wish he was here."

The affection the members held for one another was palpable. They are colleagues at the Ocean County Department of Vehicle Services in Toms River, and pool their money for tickets "when the jackpots hit big," said Lisa Presutto.

She said each put in $6 to buy three tickets at $2 each for a total of 48 tickets.

"Honestly, I went to the Acme that day to pick up my group's [Powerball] ticket and my prescriptions at the pharmacy. ... I couldn't believe it," she said of the next morning, "when the winning numbers matched one of our tickets."

"I immediately started shaking and went to wake my poor husband up, who's no longer poor," she said, laughing.

Hedinger said that some jackpots have been larger. Such was the case when the state sold two jackpot-winning tickets for last Wednesday's Powerball drawing - the first time it sold two winning tickets for the same drawing in 20 years. Minnesota sold a third.

Last Wednesday's Powerball jackpot was $448 million with a cash value of $258 million. Split among the three winning tickets, it's about $86 million each.

One of the two New Jersey tickets was sold at a Super Stop & Shop in South Brunswick and has yet to be claimed. The other was purchased at an Acme Market in Little Egg Harbor by Presutto. The Acme received a $30,000 commission from the lottery for selling a winning Powerball ticket.

"These are your 16 winners," Hedinger said. "Many suffered through Superstorm Sandy and here they are today."

She, too, commented on the irony of having one of New Jersey's most hurricane-damaged towns produce 16 new millionaires at once.

"What kind of fate ties it all together like this?" Hedinger asked.

On Monday, Ocean's 16 members rode in a chartered bus to lottery offices near Trenton for group leader Brian McCarthy to validate their winning ticket and file an official claim. The group waited for the official declaration in the Lottery Commission Room before bursting into hollers, hugs, and clapping.

"You could hear the cheers here in Ocean County," Hedinger joked.

William Seeley of Manahawkin, who said a tornado went through his town earlier in the day, had on a straw hat and sunglasses as if he were ready to hit the beach. As far as his new wealth, he said he plans "to watch NASCAR on Sundays in a log cabin on a few acres of land."

"We're a very, very happy group," he said.

The winning ticket was purchased as a cash ticket so each winner will receive a check for $3,872,445.94 after taxes.

Only one of the 16 has plans to retire immediately - Joseph Odoardo. The rest said they plan to keep working at their jobs at the vehicle service garage, where they handle maintenance operations for Ocean County vehicles and equipment.

"It's just overwhelming," Odoardo said. "After 34 years and almost retiring last year, when this happens, you just don't have another choice."

Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855, sparmley@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @SuzParmley.

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