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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Lucky winner says she's beaten, robbed of ticket
There have been arrests, charges and painful cuts and bruises. But no lottery stub is found.
By THOMAS LAKE
Published June 14, 2007
HOLIDAY - As usual, Patsy Jean Harris spent much of Tuesday behind the counter at Linda's Place, frying bacon and eggs for the regulars.
As usual, she got off about 3 p.m. and stopped at the Mobil station for a liter of Mountain Dew, a pack of Newports and a lottery ticket.
Then she scratched the ticket and discovered she had won $40, which she spent on two more tickets. One of them said she'd won $500.
That was quite unusual, and it was merely the beginning: Moments later, in the calm that preceded a rip-roaring fight, Harris would become what lottery officials said was the first player they had ever heard of to have her ticket snatched away while she was waiting to have it cashed.
Harris is 23. She lives in Hudson with her husband and 12-year-old stepdaughter. She is one of those people whose only phone is her cell phone, and that phone had recently been cut off because she couldn't pay the bill.
Now she could.
According to Harris and Pasco Sheriff's Office reports, this is what happened next:
She hurried back into the store and hugged the cashier, Shilpa Patel, and kissed her on the cheek.
"Look!" she said, holding out the ticket. "Can you cash it?"
She stood at the counter by the RingPops and the Ole Smokies beef sticks while Patel counted the money in the drawer.
Behind her, from the quarter machine, a young woman stepped forward.
"You won $500?" she asked. "Let me see."
Harris cautiously held out the ticket, clutching it in her left hand.
The woman grabbed it and made for the door.
Harris is short and compact, a member of what she calls a "rough family," and she has thrown a few punches in her time. She chased the woman outside and seized her by the shirt.
They were grappling out on the curb by the Reddy Ice machine when a second woman, a friend of the thief, came out and punched Harris in the head.
Harris had two goals: hold the robber hostage until police arrived, and keep the accomplice from knocking her unconscious.
She believes the fight lasted more than five minutes. Obscenities flew from all sides. Customers came and went, refusing to intervene. The accomplice grabbed Harris by the face and scratched furrows into her cheeks.
Finally, as Harris held the robber by her necklace, the necklace broke. Harris grabbed her by her T-shirt, but the woman wriggled out of it. Both women ran north. Harris chased them but they got away.
Deputies caught them about 6 p.m. in a house on Phoenix Avenue. According to arrest reports, the robber was Whitney Sharnay Flukes, 20, of 713 South Distance Avenue, Tarpon Springs; her accomplice was Taylor Nicole Syme, 19, of 3525 Holiday Lake Drive, Holiday. Both were charged with strong-arm robbery and held in the Land O'Lakes jail Wednesday in lieu of $10,000 bail.
The winning ticket could not be found. Both woman said Flukes had given it to a third woman, Maison Murray, but that sounded questionable because Murray had apparently helped to break up the fight.
"They ain't give me nothin'," Murray said when reached by phone on Wednesday.
In any case, Harris doesn't have it. And that probably means she's out of luck.
"We can't award money without a ticket," lottery spokeswoman Jackie Barreiros said.
Harris went back to work on Wednesday, sweat stinging the cuts on her face, and when she was done she went back to the Mobil and bought a $2 ticket.
It was not a winner.
A while later she sat on the curb with her Mountain Dew, flicking cigarette ash to the concrete.
"Just as fast as luck comes," she said, "it goes."
Thomas Lake can be reached at email@example.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.