Saturday July 4th, 2020 11:57PM

From Powerball winner to scandal: Jack Whittaker dies at 72

By The Associated Press
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Andrew “Jack” Whittaker Jr., whose life became rife with setbacks and tragedy after winning a record $315 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas night in 2002, has died. He was 72.

The Ronald Meadows Funeral Parlor in Hinton confirmed it. A funeral home official who declined to give his name said Tuesday that Whittaker died of natural causes, but he refused to say when or where, and he said a service would be private.

Whittaker became an instant celebrity at 55 when he claimed what was then the largest U.S. lottery jackpot won by a single ticket. He opted for the lump-sum payout of $113.4 million after taxes, and flew off to New York with his family in a private jet to appear on network TV morning shows.

But he quickly fell victim to scandals, lawsuits and personal setbacks as he endured constant requests for money, leaving him unable to trust others. Several times, he was quoted as saying he wished he had torn up the ticket.

His wife left him. A friend of his drug-addicted granddaughter was found dead at his home in 2004. Three months later, his 17-year-old granddaughter was gone, too.

His daughter, Ginger Whittaker Bragg, died in 2009 at age 42 after struggling for years with cancer.

And in 2016, he lost a Virginia home to a fire.

He struggled with drinking and gambling. His home and car were repeatedly burglarized. At a strip club, thieves broke into his Lincoln Navigator and stole a briefcase stuffed with $245,000 and three $100,000 cashiers’ checks.

That time, at least, he caught a break — the briefcase was later found, with the money still inside.

Whittaker was charged twice with driving while under the influence and sued repeatedly, once by three female casino employees who accused him of assault.

In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Whittaker knew his legacy was already written.

“I’m only going to be remembered as the lunatic who won the lottery,” Whittaker said. “I’m not proud of that. I wanted to be remembered as someone who helped a lot of people.”

At that point, Whittaker said he still had plenty of money. How much remained at his death, and who might benefit from his estate, was not immediately clear on Tuesday.

Known for wearing cowboy hats and western-style clothing, Whittaker was a self-made millionaire long before he won the lottery, having built construction businesses worth $17 million.

A regular Powerball player, Whittaker, who then lived in Scott Depot, already had concrete plans to share his prize with churches and his family when he claimed his winnings.

“I’ve had to work for everything in my life. This is the first thing that’s ever been given to me,” Whittaker said then.

A foundation started in Whittaker’s name spent $23 million building two churches in the years after his jackpot win, and his family donated food, clothing and college scholarships to local students.

Whittaker also put his granddaughter, Brandi Bragg, on his payroll. But his plans to give his inheritance to her were vanquished just before Christmas in 2004, when her body was found in a junked van, hidden by a boyfriend who panicked when he found her dead. An autopsy didn't pinpoint a cause.

“She was going to inherit everything,” Whittaker said.

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