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Saturday, February 28, 1998

San Antonio family claims $47 million Lotto prize

By CHIP BROWN / Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN (AP) -- If Billy and Joanette Cowsert run out of things to do after claiming the second-largest Lotto Texas jackpot won by a single ticketholder, they may want to consider standup comedy.

They already appear to have been cast straight out of the television show "Home Improvement."

Mrs. Cowsert is the upstanding, dutiful wife, mother of two children and a teacher of dyslexic students in the San Antonio Independent School District. He is the smart-aleck construction foreman who rarely shows a serious side.

On Friday, Mrs. Cowsert recalled her reaction to a phone call from her husband notifying her that he had purchased the only winning ticket for the $47 million jackpot drawn on Feb. 4.

"I told him I had had a long day at school and that I wasn't in a joking mood," she said.

"That's not what you said," Cowsert interrupted. "You called me every name in the book."

"I thought you were lying and I didn't think it was a very funny joke," she said.

"I said, ÔJoanette, if that's the way you really feel about it, then sign on the dotted line saying you want absolutely nothing to do with the ticket,' " he said.

"Then, I believed him," she said.

Even their 15-year-old son, Brandon, had the schtick down. When asked what his initial reaction was to hearing about the winning ticket, he deadpanned, "I thought dad was drunk or something."

When Cowsert, 44, was asked if he had been lucky all his life, he paused for a moment, appearing on the verge of expressing something heartfelt before saying, "Yeah, I've won in Las Vegas before."

"And he has a nice family," Mrs. Cowsert, 40, quickly pitched in, drawing laughs from the gathering of Texas Lottery Commission employees who attend all of the news conferences involving Lotto winners.

The Cowserts on Friday received $1.88 million -- the first of 25 annual installments -- and said they would invest the money, build their dream house and send their son and daughter to the colleges of their choice.

The daughter, Courtney, who is 12, had more pressing needs on her wish-list.

"I've always wanted a go-cart," she said. "And a pug-faced dog."

The Cowserts' jackpot is the second largest won by a single ticketholder. The record belongs to Joe Jones of Mansfield, who won $53.9 million on Nov. 16, 1994.

While the family lives in San Antonio, Cowsert bought the ticket in Uvalde while managing a construction job on a ranch.

He said he was so concerned about the ticket's safety, he called the police in Uvalde to see if anyone knew of a way he could get the ticket locked in a safety deposit box at a bank after office hours.

He said when an officer arrived at the grocery store where Cowsert had confirmed his winning numbers (3, 9, 20, 32, 40 and 50), the officer asked to see the Quick Pick ticket.

"He stared at the ticket for a long time and didn't seem to want to turn it loose," Cowsert said. "I thought, ÔIf anyone's going to get shot, it's going to be me,' and I snatched it out of his fingers."

Ultimately, the police officer called a banker who opened up a vault and allowed Cowsert to put the ticket inside.

Cowsert, whose winning ticket was one of seven Quick Picks he bought, said he and his wife plan to continue working.

"I told my boss that I hoped winning the lottery wouldn't affect any future raises I might get," Cowsert said.

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