Collector's Item

updated 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

THIS IS NOT JUST ANOTHER RAGS-TO-RICHES story. It is a rags-grapefruit-rinds-eggshells-and-used-coffee-grounds-to-riches story. The hero is garbageman Craig Randall, 23, of Taunton, Mass. On Sept. 11 he plucked a Wendy's soda cup, with a prize coupon from the fast-food chain's Everyday Value Instant Pay-off Game still attached, from atop the pile in the rear hopper of his 20-ton Mack truck. He peeled off the coupon and read, "Congratulations! You're the winner of a $200,000 home." Randall's instant reaction: "Yeah, right."

Just then, Randall explains, his mind was on lunch. At a Wendy's the week before, he had purchased a drink with a winning coupon for a $2.82 chicken sandwich, and he took the cup hoping to add some fries to his still-unclaimed sandwich. "I don't even remember when or where I found it," Randall says. "I just shoved it in my pocket."

Later, in the apartment he shares with his fiancée, nurse Michelle Dacey, 25, Randall took a second look at the coupon. Neither he nor Dacey could believe it was valid, so Randall phoned his sister Annette Meiggs, 28, a home-maker, for advice. She called a Wendy's in nearby Brockton, and the manager told her the coupon sounded like a winner. When she called her brother with the news, Meiggs says, "Craig was hysterical."

Randall got worried two weeks later, though, when he had to fill out an eligibility form from the Nebraska firm that administered the contest and was asked where he had bought the drink. "I knew it wasn't right to lie," Randall says. So before replying, he contacted a lawyer, who told him that no purchase was needed and that Randall didn't even have to use the prize on a home. Thus, on Oct. 26, proudly wearing a fresh, gray Waste Management Inc. uniform, Randall stood in front of Wendy's in Peabody, Mass., and accepted a $200,000 check.

The winnings haven't gone to Randall's head. He doesn't plan to quit his $30,000-a-year job, and he and Dacey will wed next September. "The best part," he says, "is knowing my family will be secure in the future." After the award ceremony, recalls Randall's father, Charles, 46, a truck driver, his son's first concern was to find a bank: "He said, 'One day's interest on $200,000 is too much to lose.' "

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