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Long-time pals hit jackpot

Aug 10, 2004, 9:42 am

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Canada 6/49

It was like prom night all over again four giddy couples crammed into a stretch limousine, cruising the streets.

But the pack of friends weren't on their way to a dance. Instead, the 30- and 40-somethings were dropping off checks of more than $3.6 million at their banks, each couple's share of the Canadian Lotto 6/49 jackpot.

"We're still actually trying to fathom what has gone down; none of us has slept very much," said Lorraine Ulrick, her husband Gregory beside her, as the limo pulled to a stop.

"She's not buying anything!" Gregory joked, yelling into his wife's cellphone. "Unless her housework's done then she can do whatever she wants."

It's been a tornado 24 hours for Canada's newest millionaires among them a construction worker, an apprentice pipefitter and a customer service rep.

Yesterday afternoon, the couples three from Milton, one from Mississauga collected a cheque for $14,570,262, half of Saturday's $29 million prize. The other winner, or winners, hadn't claimed their share as of last night.

The group, who met while playing darts about eight years ago, decided to buy the ticket on a whim Saturday night. They'd gathered for a weekly barbecue in the backyard of supply teacher Bernetta Thistle and her husband Ken, the construction worker. Everyone was eating pork chops and ribs and drinking beer.

Debbie Smyth and her partner, Joe D'Alessandro, an auto-parts worker, were going home to pick up a computer program for their hosts when Ken Thistle suggested they grab a lottery ticket and persuaded everyone to chip in.

The numbers were picked and everyone quickly forgot about it.

"It's one of those things," Lorraine Ulrick said. "You've bought tickets for ever and ever and ever; you dream, yeah, but it wasn't really discussed."

Then, Sunday morning, the calls started coming in.

Michael Banks, who works for his wife Margaretta's recycling company, said he was thinking of quitting. "I think I'm going to give her my letter of resignation this week," he said.

He's off to the Hummer dealership this morning, where he'll meet with a sales rep.

"Hopefully by Friday, I'll have it," he said of the gargantuan sport-utility vehicle, which can cost six figures. Banks said his wife would be buying a new car.

The couple, parents of two high schoolers, also want to look after needy relatives after they've taken a family vacation.

"My mother is in England," Banks said. "She was sick last year and I'm really looking forward to helping her out."

Lorraine Ulrick, a customer service representative, wasn't thinking that far ahead. The Mississauga mother of two school-aged children said she'd just started a week's vacation and wasn't sure if she'd go back to work when her break ends Monday morning. "My gut says I'm going in," she said.

Last night, though, her new driver was taking her and her pipefitter husband somewhere nice for dinner. "I'm not cooking," she said.

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