Lottery Winnings Bring Priceless Woes for Couple

CORBIN, Kentucky -- For Mack Metcalf and his estranged second wife, Virginia Merida, sharing a $34 million lottery jackpot in 2000 meant escaping poverty at breakneck speed.

Though they were divorced by 2001, it was as if their lives as rich people had taken on an eerie symmetry. So did their deaths.

In 2003, just three years after cashing in his winning ticket, Metcalf died of complications relating to alcoholism at the age of 45. Then on the day before Thanksgiving this year, Merida's partly decomposed body was found in her bed. Authorities said they have found no evidence of foul play and are looking into the possibility of a drug overdose. She was 51.

"Any problems people have, money magnifies it so much, it's unbelievable," said Robert Merida, one of Merida's three brothers.

The real trouble started in July 2000, when a friend called Merida: Metcalf had the winning $3 ticket for a $65 million Powerball jackpot. Merida had refused to answer his calls, thinking he was drunk.

"Mack kept calling here, asking me to go tell Ginny that he had won the lottery," said Carolyn Keckeley, a friend of Merida. "She wouldn't believe him."

At the time, both were barely scraping by, he by driving a forklift and she by making corrugated boxes. But in one shot, they walked away with a cash payout of $34 million, which they split 60-40.

But problems arrived almost immediately. A caseworker in Northern Kentucky saw Metcalf's photograph and recognized him as having been delinquent in child support payments to a daughter from his first marriage. His first wife took legal action that resulted in court orders that he pay $31,000 in child support and create a $500,000 trust fund for the girl, Amanda, his only child.

Merida splurged enough to buy a Mercedes and a geodesic-dome house designed by a local architect in Cold Spring, Kentucky, for $559,000. She kept the furnishings simple, neighbors said, but bought several arcade-quality video games for her son, Jason.

Then in January, a live-in boyfriend, Fred Hill, died of an overdose of an opiate-related drug, according to a police report. No charges were filed, and officials said it was not clear if the opiate was heroin or a prescription drug.

In May, Merida filed a complaint in Campbell County Circuit Court against one of her brothers, David, saying that he had been harassing her.

When Merida's son found her body on Nov. 23, she had been dead for several days, the county coroner's office said. There was no evidence of a break-in, or that she had been attacked, officials said. Toxicological studies on her will not be completed for several weeks.

In a brief obituary in The Kentucky Enquirer, Merida's family described her simply as "a homemaker." On a black tombstone, Metcalf had this inscribed for her father, "Loving father and brother, finally at rest."