SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – For more than five months – while Julie Cervera struggled to pay a $600 electrical bill, feed her family and keep the cable company from shutting off her service because she couldn’t pay – she was a millionaire without knowing it.
Meanwhile, her $23 million lottery ticket languished forgotten in the glove compartment of her car.
On Thursday, someone texted her a photo of her daughter, Charliena Marquez, buying the winning ticket for her at a Palmdale Liquor store. The photo had been released by lottery officials searching for the mysterious winner of the May drawing.
“I put my 99-cent glasses on, and I had to put two pairs on to see it,” said Cervera, 69, of Victorville. She recognized her daughter in the grainy photo, but she still couldn’t read the caption.
“I thought she robbed a bank because I couldn’t see the words on top,” Cervera said with a laugh. “So I put on a third pair (of glasses) and it said she won. I was like, ‘No way!’ ”
Back in May, mother and daughter were driving home together when Marquez felt queasy and asked her mother to pull over so she could buy a bottle of water.
Cervera asked her daughter to buy her a lottery ticket, and Marquez purchased a Super Lotto Plus ticket for her mom.
“I put it in my new car. It’s an old car but it’s new to me. It’s been there for five months,” Cervera said Friday at a news conference with her three adult children and half a dozen grandchildren lined up behind her. “I’ve got like 200 tickets laying around my house. I never check my tickets.”
But when she finally looked in the glove compartment, the winning ticket was right where she left it. It was set to expire Nov. 26, so the California Lottery went looking for the winner.
Officials found the surveillance video from Michael’s Market and Liquor and released the photo, which Cervera’s other daughter spotted in the Antelope Valley Press.
Marquez initially dismissed calls and texts from friends and family who recognized her in the photo.
It wasn’t until the next morning that Marquez realized she had bought the winning ticket that would help her mother and her entire family for years to come.
Cervera said she would take a one-time cash payment of $17.8 million.
“I’m not going to be here 30 years from now,” she said.