It's the story of a lottery ticket ripped up, thrown away, recovered from a trash can after some quick detective work, taped back together and presented for a $250,000 prize. And to top it off, it was the second $250,000 prize that a Wisconsin man won in Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing with tickets he bought at a Dubuque convenience store.
"It just makes it really unbelievable," Paul Wedig said as he claimed his prizes Thursday at the Iowa Lottery's regional office in Cedar Rapids. "Lesson learned."
Wedig, 29, who works at a Dubuque community-based housing facility for disabled adults, said he had bought a ticket over the weekend for Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing. But on Monday, he stopped at the Dubuque convenience store where he often makes his purchases and had his tickets checked without realizing that the drawing hadn't yet occurred. Wedig said he misunderstood what had happened, so he bought another ticket for Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing using the same play slip he had used to purchase the first one. He tore up his original ticket and threw it in the trash as he left the 16th Street Auto/Truck Plaza.
"I went in and had them scanned before the drawing actually happened for whatever reason and I threw the ticket away," he said with a laugh.
Fast forward to Wednesday, and lottery staff contacted the 16th St. Auto/Truck Plaza store to let staff there know that the location had sold two tickets that each won a $250,000 prize in Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing. Lottery investigator Brad Wells asked the store to check its security camera footage for the time periods around the sale of both tickets to see if the winner or winners could be identified. Store personnel recognized Wedig as a regular customer.
Meanwhile Wedig had called the lottery's regional office in Cedar Rapids to ask about claiming a $250,000 prize, not yet realizing that he had even more good news on the way. Wells talked with him, explaining that the manager of the c-store where he bought his tickets was relatively certain he had purchased both big winners.
"After talking with Brad, I pretty much concluded that it probably was my ticket," Wedig said as he claimed his prizes. "And I called Cindy [the store manager] and told her that I would be on my way, I would be there in an hour and I would look through the trash. When I got there, Cindy had already found it."
The manager of the c-store had indeed dug through the trash and found the four pieces of Wedig's signed ticket still at the bottom of the trash can just outside the store. When the ticket was taped back together, it was in good enough condition that it could be scanned by lottery equipment so he could claim his second $250,000 prize.
"I was in shock," said Wedig, who's from Belmont.
Wells, a former police officer who now works in the lottery's Security Division, said it was a good feeling to help Wedig bring home his prize.
"We often talk about the security features that go into lottery tickets, and in this instance, we were able to use that security to help deliver some really good news," Wells said. "There was definitely a little bit of luck in this case, too."
Wedig bought both his winning tickets at the 16th St. Auto/Truck Plaza, 1215 E. 16th St. in Dubuque.
The winning numbers in Tuesday's $50 million Mega Millions drawing were: 3-15-31-36-53 and Mega Ball 27. The Megaplier number that night was 2. Both of Wedig's tickets matched the first five numbers but missed the Mega Ball to win a $250,000 prize. He didn't add the Megaplier option to his tickets, which would have multiplied each of his prizes to $1 million.
Players can multiply their prizes (except the jackpot) with the Megaplier up to four times. The cost is $1 per play.
Wedig said the good news was still sinking in as he claimed his prize, and he admitted that his family and friends didn't quite believe him when he told them the story.
"I'm a little bit a jokester, so I can understand how they would think that I would be pulling their leg," he said.
Wedig said he planned to use some of his winnings to pay off student loans, and he planned to meet with a financial planner to make investments. He also is looking forward to a trip to Italy with his younger brother.