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Five Iowa friends split $1 million prize

Just Us

Drawing Date: 12/17/2019

December 19, 2019 - Five friends who chipped in to buy lottery tickets together shared a memorable moment Thursday as they claimed a $1 million Mega Millions prize.

Tim Harless of Eldora, Iowa, bought the group’s $1 million-winning ticket at a local convenience store for Tuesday night’s Mega Millions drawing. The friends, who call themselves “Just Us,” have played the lottery together for about 15 years. Harless said that while they’ve won smaller prizes over time, they now have a very different story to tell.

“I got more than $2!” said Harless, 60, who works for the city of Eldora’s street department.

The four other members of the group are: Dennis Dickenson, 55; Julia Salazar, 64; Dave Twedt, 51; and Steve Wright, 67. They all live in Eldora and know each other through the Hardin County community of about 2,700. The four men say that Salazar keeps the rest of them fed. She has managed the local Casey’s convenience store for 20 years, and it’s their regular stop for lunch, snacks and drinks.

Salazar said she checked the results of the drawing Wednesday morning and called Harless to share the news that they’d won big. She was apparently pretty excited.

“At first, I couldn't understand her,” Harless said. “And then it kind of sunk in afterwards. She was talking really fast. But we got it all figured out.”

Salazar said she was contacted by a member of the Iowa Lottery’s Security Division on Wednesday as part of the lottery’s verification work involving a ticket winning a sizeable prize. That includes checking the store’s security-camera system for footage of the ticket purchase.

“I was praying it was us,” Salazar said. “When we pulled the footage, I said, ‘Please have Tim walk through the door at this moment.’ And there he was! I know he comes in and buys, I was just hoping it was him.”

Dickenson, who works for Harless at the city’s street department, has a story of double good fortune: In November, he survived quadruple bypass surgery, and now he and his friends have won a big lottery prize. “I feel lucky,” he said.

Dickenson said that Harless called him Wednesday to share their lottery news. “I always believe everything Tim says,” Dickenson deadpanned, prompting huge laughter from the rest of the group.

Wright said Harless came to him in person with the news. “He called me and told me to come outside,” Wright said. “He was parked in my driveway. He told me what was going on and I ran back inside and told my wife and she didn't believe me.”

Twedt had his own doubts when he spoke with Harless on the phone. “He started talking really fast,” Twedt said. “I was really confused and kind of frustrated at first because I thought it was a big scam. Finally I figured out who it was, I recognized his voice, and it kind of clicked!”

Harless bought the $1 million-winning ticket at Casey’s, 1807 Edgington Ave. in Eldora. The easy-pick ticket came within one number of having a share of Tuesday’s $372 million jackpot, matching the first five numbers but missing the Mega Ball. A single ticket purchased in Ohio won that night’s jackpot.

Tuesday’s winning numbers were: 22-30-53-55-56 and Mega Ball 16. The Megaplier was 2.
Six prizes of at least $1 million have now been won this year in Iowa. Casey’s will receive a $1,000 bonus from the Iowa Lottery for selling the $1 million-winning ticket at one of its stores.

All the members of the Just Us group talked about putting their winnings into savings, paying off bills or investing for retirement. And for Wright, already retired, another possibility is on the list.
“There might be a new pickup in the spring,” he said.

The group plans to continue playing the lottery together. Could they win again? Harless addressed that point. “I hope so!” he said.