LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A group of employees from the Ocean County Vehicle Maintenance Department came to work Thursday knowing they had one of three winning tickets in Wednesday night’s $448.4 million Powerball jackpot, two county officials said Thursday evening.

The ticket was sold at the Little Egg Harbor Acme Market. The two others were sold in Middlesex County and Minnesota.

“I couldn’t be more happy for them. They’re a group of wonderful, hardworking people, and them showing up for work today ought to tell you something,” said Jim Pine, director of the Vehicle Maintenance Department.

Pine and Freeholder Jack Kelly said 16 employees held the winning ticket. All of them work at the county garage in Toms River, Pine said.

“I got a call today from Jim Pine, who told me that a group of his employees had won. It’s a great thing,” Kelly said.

Pine declined to give any details about the 16 employees but said they are a great staff and he assured them he would respect their privacy.

“They’re really a great group of people. This is my staff. They’re right now trying to work through this. They got lucky,” Pine said.

If taken in a lump sum, each of the three winning Powerball tickets was worth $86 million before taxes, or $58.3 million after taxes. They are worth $149.4 million over 30 years if the winners choose the annuity option.

Throughout the day Thursday, rumors circulated in Little Egg Harbor about potential winners as officials at the Acme waited for someone to come forward. Many people said they hoped it was a local resident who is still struggling with damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Mabel Dodrill fielded phone calls Thursday from family members in the northern part of the state wondering whether she had become a millionaire.

“It wasn’t me, I was telling everybody this morning,” Dodrill said as she shopped Thursday at the Acme. “I played the Powerball the other day, but I only had the Powerball number. It was 32. I bought some scratch-off tickets and won $52, though.” Dodrill said she will celebrate her 76th birthday today and that she is thankful for being in remission of breast cancer for almost a year.

“I got my Twinkies today. I know I shouldn’t be eating them, but I love them,” she said as she tapped the box in her shopping cart.

The Acme store was busy Thursday, but that is normal, Assistant Store Manager Jorge Dinis said, adding that the excitement and rumors were overwhelming. Dinis and his staff fielded many questions from media Thursday, but with no answers on who the lucky winner is.

“Over the last few days people have been lining up here to buy tickets,” Dinis said.

The community was not as lucky about 10 months ago, when Sandy was estimated to have damaged almost 5,000 area homes. Many people remain displaced as rebuilding continues.

Julie Monroe works as a clerk at the counter where the lottery tickets are sold. She said Thursday was definitely not business as usual. This quiet, semi-rural, seaside community is not used to this kind of attention, Monroe said.

“I just really hope it’s one of our locals,” she said Thursday afternoon.

Phil Weber, director of the Acme Markets store where the winning ticket was sold, said Thursday that he had not been notified of what the store’s share will be.

Frank Negri was waiting in the parking lot, watching the news trucks swarm the area, shaking his head. Negri, of Rockland County, N.Y., luckily had no damage to his township home after Sandy, but he regretted not playing the Powerball this week.

“Yesterday I was here and people were lined up to get tickets. I never buy one because I never win,” Negri said.

Wednesday’s other winning Powerball tickets were sold in a Super Stop & Shop store in South Brunswick, Middlesex County, and in Anoka County, Minn., which includes the city of Anoka and other suburbs north of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The winning numbers were 05, 25, 30, 58, 59 and Powerball 32. During the telecast, Powerball officials announced the jackpot that was pegged at $425 million previously in the day had grown amid a buying frenzy.

From his makeshift home in a wooded area that faces the Acme Market across the parking lot adjacent to Route 9, 81-year-old John Karpinski said he hoped a young couple held the winning ticket.

Karpinski, a Korean War veteran, said he is homeless and has lived in the wooded area for six months. On Thursday, he, like many others in the parking lot, watched the day’s excitement. He uses a shopping cart from the Dollar General Store in the same shopping center to store his belongings and said he sleeps in a broken-down wooden shed on the small, wooded patch of land.

“Yeah, it should be young people, not an (old guy) like me. They have more time to enjoy it. But if I had one, the first thing I would do is buy a plane and then I’d fly to France to see my family,” Karpinski said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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