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'Retired for about four days now'

Eight meat plant workers claim record $365 million Powerball prize


ConAgra Foods Incorporated
Gaming and Lotteries

LINCOLN, Nebraska (CNN) -- Eight meat processing workers came forward Wednesday to claim the $365 million Powerball jackpot, the largest lottery prize in U.S. history.

For Chasity Rutjens, 29, it was just her third time participating in the office pool at the ConAgra plant.

Clutching an oversized $22.1 million check -- the amount each of the eight received before taxes -- Rutjens said she was single, and added, "It's all mine."

She added that she is just "trying to grasp that we're millionaires now." (Watch some very happy meat plant workers get their checks -- 6:53)

Eric Zornes, 40, a maintenance mechanic, said, "I've been retired for about four days now."

He learned that they had won the record jackpot about 1 a.m. Sunday, when he came home and found on his chair a note from his wife with the winning lottery numbers on it. He scanned the 48 numbers from the office pool and learned he was an instant millionaire.

He immediately woke up his wife and two children: "It was party time."

Asked what he said in that moment, Zornes peered out from his black hat and sunglasses and told the crowded news conference that he couldn't utter the words in a family atmosphere. But the translation, he said, would be, "You got to be kidding me."

The winning numbers were 15, 17, 43, 44 and 48, with a Powerball number of 29, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association of Des Moines, Iowa, which runs the game for the participating states.

The atmosphere where Gov. Dave Heineman opened the news conference was festive, with reporters peppering the new multimillionaires with questions like, "Are you single?" and "What do you plan to do with the money?"

Among the eight winners, who chose to take the lump sum total of $124.1 million after taxes, or $15.5 million apiece, were two immigrants from Vietnam and one from central Africa. The rest had lived in and around Lincoln for years.

Quang Dao, a 56-year-old father of four boys and one girl, came to the United States from Vietnam in 1990. Dao beamed on the podium Wednesday, with a grin stretching from ear to ear. He had been working at the ConAgra processing plant for about 15 years.

He still has family in Vietnam, and they also were elated over the news. "They very happy," he said, his broad smile stretching even bigger.

The workers had chipped in to buy the pool of tickets last week. Many had done the pool for four or five years when the jackpots got big. They would contribute money -- often five dollars -- and then photocopy the tickets for the people who had participated. Three of the eight workers worked their shifts at the factory last night.

The man who purchased the tickets was Dung Tran, 34, a Vietnamese immigrant who has lived in the United States for 16 years and worked for the plant during that time.

Married with a young son, Tran said he first learned they won Saturday around 10:30 p.m., and he immediately called up his colleagues but got through to no one.

"Everybody was sleeping," he said.

He said he plans to stop working and spend time with his wife and son.

Any plans to return to Vietnam?

"I want to stay here," he said.

Alain Maboussou, a 26-year-old who had come to the United States with his father from central Africa in 1990, said simply, "I'm just excited."

Like the rest of the gang, Rob Stewart, 30, said he's just trying to absorb everything. "I didn't know what to think," he said of learning he won. "I still don't."

David Gehle, 53, also expressed elation.

And Michael Terpstra, 47, who has enjoyed working at the plant for 16 years, said his lottery colleagues called him Sunday afternoon, and he first "thought they were playing a joke on me."

"It's been different ever since," he said.

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