BONAIRE — Charlie Santiago describes himself as a “giver.” He’s a volunteer track and field and cross country coach at Houston County High School and he runs his own summer camp.
Last week, the giver received. “Coach Charlie,” 63, of Bonaire, was presented a check for $740,005 on Thursday after winning the Georgia Lottery’s Fantasy Five. He accepted the winnings at the spot he bought the winning ticket.
His road to riches began Saturday night when he stopped at Filler’s convenience store on Houston Lake Road to buy a loaf of bread. Santiago, a regular player in the Georgia lottery, was enticed to buy a ticket when he noticed an Fantasy Five advertisement posting that day’s lucrative payout.
“I used my last $3 that I had in cash,” he recalled. “I just couldn’t resist that night.”
Good thing he didn’t. When he returned to the same store the next day, he noticed the Fantasy Five payout had collapsed. Somebody had won the loot. Santiago took out his ticket and had the clerk check the winning numbers.
That somebody was him.
His hands started shaking, Santiago recalled. “I said, ‘Lord, don’t give me a heart attack now.’ ”
The New Jersey native did regain his composure after a few moments. Even after taxes, Santiago will take in more than $500,000.
Now he has plans to invest the winnings — “I don’t want to go from rags to riches, to riches to rags” — and indulge in one treat.
“I always wanted a Corvette,” Santiago said. “It might be nice to get one little toy.”
Santiago moved to Middle Georgia about two years ago to be with his three sisters. He left a successful career as a track coach in New Jersey, where he coached track legend Carl Lewis and former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.
“We’d been asking him to move down here,” said Charlie’s sister, Pilar Santiago of Warner Robins, “and nothing but good has happened to him since he’s come here.”
Will the giver keep on giving? Maybe, but Santiago cautions, “I learned a new word, and that’s ‘no.’ ”
To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.