When Waffle House waitress Tonda Dickerson was handed a lottery ticket for a tip 22 years ago, she had no idea it would lead to decades of legal fuss, a shooting, and even a kidnapping
Waffle House in Grand Bay, southwest Alabama is on first appearances a perfectly normal restaurant.
Set on a crossroads just a couple miles from the Mississippi state border, there’s a McDonald’s and an Arby’s just yards away.
And March 7, 1999, probably began as a perfectly normal Sunday for Tonda Lynn Dickerson, a waitress at the suburban breakfast diner.
Divorced and in her late-20s, Tonda wanted change.
Maybe a new husband, a new family, a new life.
So when diner Edward Seward finished up his cheap meal and gave Tonda a Florida Lottery ticket for a tip, her brain got working.
For Mr Seward, it was a shortcut to leaving a few dollars behind.
For Ms Dickerson, it was life-changing.
On Sunday, March 13, the results were announced.
Tonda won the jackpot – and a whopping $10 million (£7.3m) – or, in today’s money, $16.4m (£11.94m).
Florida Lottery advised Tonda take $375k (£275k) over 30 years instead of the whole shebang in one go.
Experts recommend that to avoid big blowouts and, potentially, financial ruin.
There are plenty of horror stories about that.
So Tonda took the advice, quit Waffle House and started thinking about what was next.
Still in her late-20s, she had more than most of her life ahead of her – and little to anchor her in remote Alabama.
But when Tonda’s Waffle House colleagues found out, they weren’t happy.
They accused her of breaking a promise the waitresses made to each other to share the winnings of a lottery ticket handed over by a tipper.
These are the sorts of deals made mostly as a joke, Tonda thought. You never expect to face the consequences.
Yet the Waffle House workers were convinced they deserved an equal share of the immense sum.
Restaurants nowadays have stricter policies about whether tips are for individual workers alone or for the entire waiting staff.
And, at least in Britain, a lottery ticket for a tip might even be seen as an insult.
But when Mr Seward handed over the soon-to-be winning ticket, he was thinking about none of that – and had no reason to.
Less than a month after her audacious win, Tonda faced an Alabama court after being sued for millions by four Waffle House waitresses.
After just 45 minutes, local news site. Brinkwire presents summary news.