GRAND JUNCTION — Al George, a tow truck driver from Rifle who’s had the same employer for 27 years, is the nation’s newest multimillionaire.
George, 53, traveled Wednesday afternoon to the Colorado Lottery office in Grand Junction with his wife, mother and two daughters to claim Saturday’s $90 million Powerball jackpot. He bought the winning ticket at the north Rifle Kum & Go convenience store, in the town where he graduated from high school in 1979.
George said he planned to have fun with the money and take vacations. He told reporters he was still in shock and, while he had played the lottery for years, he had never come close to winning.
“He’s a super nice guy,” Jody Winkler, wife of Rifle Mayor Randy Winkler, told the Post Independent on Wednesday morning as George prepared to consult with an attorney and head to Grand Junction. “He’s happy, but I just think he’s a little freaked out. There’s a lot of decisions that have to be made.”
Jody Winkler’s son Max is married to one of George’s daughters.
George, whose given name is Claude, said he was born in Glenwood Springs but lived all his life in Rifle. He has many relatives in the Rifle area, and word had spread around town about his fortune.
While lottery officials and George asked that he be identified only as “Al G.,” as the law allows, he and his wife, Jackie, and mother, Marie, who is director of the Rifle Senior Center, appeared before the media in Grand Junction and allowed photos to be taken, making him and his family publicly recognizable.
He is related to Russell George, president of Colorado Northwestern Community College and a former state representative and speaker of the House from Rifle. Russell George also served as director of the state departments of transportation and natural resources.
The Post Independent reported on its website Tuesday and in the paper Wednesday that the winner was thought to be a Rifle man but chose not to identify him. A reporter called Al George on Tuesday, and while he declined to verify that he was the winner, he implied that he would go to Grand Junction on Wednesday afternoon to claim the prize.
The family found out Saturday night that they were soon to be rich.
Jody Winkler said Al George had gone to bed, but his wife sat up on the couch with the ticket and watched the Powerball drawing. She went upstairs to wake him, and he was in disbelief.
George’s Facebook page — which has been taken down — suggested a solidly middle class life, including a photo of him sitting on a riding lawn mower holding two small dogs in a fenced back yard and another of him apparently walking a young woman down the aisle at a wedding.
Jody Winkler said George took down the Facebook page and changed his phone number on Tuesday.
“This first stage has been a little bit scary for him, I think,” she said.
George’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a tow truck driver for Rifle Towing since January 1988.
The winning ticket was sold at the Kum & Go convenience store in north Rifle. It was the largest lottery prize ever won in Colorado. State lottery officials on Monday presented store operators with a bonus check for $50,000 for selling the ticket.
Winners may choose either a lump sum payment or a 30-year annuity option. George told reporters he had not decided which way to get the money.
Winners taking the annuity receive their first payment immediately, with the rest spread in annual payments over 29 years. If George chooses a lump sum, he would receive a check for $54.9 million in about three weeks. Taxes would be owed on that amount, Colorado Lottery spokeswoman Kelly Tabor said.
The odds of matching all the numbers for any given Powerball drawing are 1 in 175,223,510. Tickets for the game are sold in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The record Powerball jackpot of $590.5 million was won in Florida in May 2013.
“He’s a super nice guy. He’s happy, but I just think he’s a little freaked out. There’s a lot of decisions that have to be made.”
wife of Rifle Mayor Randy Winkler