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Stella! Trapped dog leads to $1M Idaho lottery win for Utahns

Published February 8, 2013 4:35 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After 13 years of playing the same set of numbers every month in the Idaho lottery, a group of 33 University of Utah workers finally hit pay dirt, winning $1 million.

But buying the winning ticket turned into a bit of an adventure. Steve Hughes left his truck running to keep his dog Stella warm while he went inside a gas station near Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, on Jan. 6.

When he returned to his truck, his miniature pincher had locked him out by putting her paw on the manual lock. Hughes, 29, planned to buy the ticket elsewhere, but instead he had his girlfriend buy it there while he tried to pick the lock with a slim jim.

He eventually coached Stella to put her paws on the electronic window button in the back seat, allowing Hughes to get in the truck.

The group who work on heating and cooling university buildings discovered Wednesday night that they had won second prize in the Idaho Powerball, and say that Stella's ordeal somehow tipped the hand of fate.

They announced the great news during a meeting Thursday morning at the HVAC shop at the U. Hughes thought it was a joke.

"It was pretty exciting," said Richard Tison, 50, the supervisor.

About 25 members of the group made the 5.5-hour trip on a charter bus to Boise, Idaho, on Friday to turn in their winning ticket and collect their checks.

It was a raucous ride on the bus, with the crew making it a "party bus" type atmosphere as they celebrated their good fortune. Tison and Hughes say they will each get about $20,000 after taxes, or as Hughes said, "A nice little bonus during the year."

Stella didn't get to go on Friday's "party bus," but the lucky winners had previously made sure the dog was rewarded.

"She got a couple of big surprises when I got home," Hughes said. "She got 18-inch rawhide bones."

The group began buying the tickets in February 2001 with just three people. The pool grew to 33 people, but the philosophy of using the same numbers never changed.

Recently, some in the group suggested they change the numbers — fed up with 13 years of futility. But Tison, one of the original three, insisted they stay the course. Hughes estimates that they've each put in $200 to $400 over the years, depending on how long they've been in the group.

Tison said they plan to keep playing the Idaho Powerball, taking turns making the monthly 1.5 hour drive to Millad, Idaho to pick up a ticket.

And yes, Tison says they'll keep playing the same numbers: 11-16-33-40-41.

"There is no need to change them," Tison said. "It worked once, why wouldn't it work again."

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Associated Press writer John Miller in Boise, Idaho contributed to this report.