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Couple claims $1M lottery prize day before it expires

By Phil Gast, CNN
Erin and Raleigh Hill of North Carolina ran the clock waiting to claim their $1 million lottery prize.
Erin and Raleigh Hill of North Carolina ran the clock waiting to claim their $1 million lottery prize.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Couple from Stallings, North Carolina, claims $1 million Mega Millions prize
  • They waited until day before deadline to come forward
  • They say they may buy new home, travel to Ireland
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(CNN) -- Erin and Raleigh Hill of North Carolina kept their $1 million lottery prize to themselves for almost six months, hiding the ticket in an envelope, a Bible, a shoebox and, finally, a work locker until they were ready to cash in.

Midafternoon Tuesday, the nervous couple knew they had to face "the hoopla."

They drove to Raleigh to claim the Mega Million prize that was set to expire at 5 p.m. Wednesday, officials said.

That brought an end of recent frantic searches by others through glove compartments, cupboards and wallets -- just in case they had the winning ticket.

The Hills each received a lump sum of $340,000 after taxes, the North Carolina Education Lottery said in a statement.

The couple purchased the winning Mega Millions ticket at the Market Express in Stallings, near Matthews, in August 2010. Raleigh Hill said he wasn't ready just then to collect the cash and hid the ticket, the lottery said.

Winners have 180 days to come forward.

Raleigh Hill matched all five white balls (4-13-20-29-48) with a $2 Megaplier ticket, earning an automatic $1 million prize.

Raleigh Hill, a baggage handler, waited several weeks after the purchase to tell his wife, Erin, a federal government employee, the lottery said.

He informed Erin at the end of a bad day for her. "Things aren't all that bad," he told her as he left the winning ticket on a computer screen after displaying the winning numbers.

At one point, Raleigh Hill told lottery officials, he thought he had lost the ticket before remembering it was in the shoebox in a closet.

The Hills, who live in Stallings, may buy a new home and take a trip to Ireland because of Erin Hill's heritage, the lottery said.

CNN left messages Tuesday for the Hills.

Esther Roach, store manager at Market Express, told CNN she had gotten about 15 calls in the past two days from people who bought lottery tickets and wanted to the know the address of her store.

They may have purchased tickets at multiple locations and were trying to recall whether they had been to the Stallings store.

"Today has been tremendously busy," she said Tuesday afternoon before learning the Hills had come forward. "I barely had time to get my work done today."

The North Carolina Education Lottery says it has advice for people to avoid confusion on whether they are a winner.

"We advise people to sign the back and have a system to keep up with them," communications director Van Denton told CNN.

Market Express, which won $10,000 for selling the ticket, saw a jump in sales after the lottery announced where the August winner was sold.

"They thought it was a lucky store," Roach said. "It is good for business."

Since its inception in March 2006, the education lottery has provided about $1.76 billion for four school programs. That includes money for school construction, college scholarships for students in need, teacher pay and programs to keep class sizes small, Denton said.

If no winner had been certified at lottery headquarters in Raleigh by the deadline, the $1 million prize would have been split between education and a fund to pay down a Medicaid shortfall in North Carolina.

According to the lottery, a Winterville man had less than two full business days left before his $200,000 Powerball ticket was set to expire January 4, 2009. The ticket had been sitting on his dresser since he purchased it, completely forgotten about until a friend from Greensboro heard of the missing ticket and called to ask if he had ever checked his.

The largest prize that went unclaimed was a $800,000 Powerball ticket sold in April 2008.

 
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