Though we all like to create a narrative where we’re in control of our lives and destiny, so much in life is down to chance. Somebody is no doubt at this very minute getting blindsided by a out of control rickshaw or clobbered in the head by a for sale sign, due to an ill-timed gust of wind. If you can imagine it happening, it probably has, and though some misfortune is self inflicted, Darwin Award style, often it’s a case of ‘nobody saw it coming. The same of course applies to good fortune. Fate hands some a free pass in life and endless riches without much of a struggle along the way. Tonda Dickerson’s story stands out on account that she experienced both the best and worst of what fortune can offer.
Dickerson’s life was as ordinary as can be, divorced and in her late 20s she was just going through the motions of everyday life. By day, she worked as a waitress at the Grand Bay Waffle House in Alabama and any one day resembled the next. That was until the day that Edward Seward walked in, ate a hearty breakfast and then handed her a lottery ticket as a tip. This simple task was a set a chain of events into motion that she could have never in her wildest dreams or nightmares anticipated. The date was Sunday, March 7th, 1999. The lottery took place on the following Saturday. She won that lottery.
Suddenly in possession of a winning lottery ticket worth $10 million, Dickerson’s fortunes looked to suddenly be massively on the up as she accepted $375,000 over the next 30 years rather than the lump sum payout.
Fate however had other ideas. She soon found herself embroiled in multiple legal battles, with both her work mates (who deemed that the lottery ticket tip should be split between them all), the IRS and even the man who gave her the ticket in the first place! Though Dickerson stated that she didn’t agree to split the winnings, it took a jury took just 45 minutes to decide against her. She had turned down a settlement that would’ve allowed her to keep a cool $3 million of the Florida jackpot.
Not willing to let her millions evaporate into thins air, Dickerson took the case to the Alabama Supreme Court, which reversed the Circuit Court decision in 2002. Two years later she was taken to fend off a case by Seward, who had stated that Dickerson offered to buy him a stuck if the ticket was a winner. Her respite didn’t last long though, as the very same week her ex-husband who she divorced in 1997 was shot after attempting to kidnap her! He had taken her to a remote area and threatened to kill her, but while pleading with him to let her answer her ringing phone on account that people would be looking for her, she pulled a .22-caliber handgun out, shooting him in the chest.
Anticipating that possibly she’d experienced her last bit of bad (or rather harrowing) luck, her troubles were not over yet. She spend the next decade battling with the IRS, as they argued about how much she owed them. In March 2012 though her attorneys successfully argued that the IRS was wrong to demand $1 million in gift tax after Dickerson gave most of her winnings away to her family business.
Finally past these challenges (but without any money), Dickerson has not been heard of much since, though the fact that she now works as a poker dealer at the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, perhaps is a strange yet fitting endless to her ‘run in’ with ‘good fortune’.
Of course this isn’t the first rags, to riches, then back to rags again type story of huge lottery wins. How about Ronnie Music Jr, the Waycross, Georgia man who won $3 million then had the bright idea of using it to invest in a meth ring. or Urooj Khan, poisoned with cyanide a day after a $1 millon win. Sometimes getting everything you’ve ever dreamed of is just the beginning of the story, rather than the end.