Lottery winner's granddaughter had easy access to money _ and apparently drugs _ before her death

Friday, December 24th 2004, 3:44 pm
By: News On 6

WINFIELD, W.Va. (AP) _ Seventeen-year-old Brandi Bragg was laid to rest on Friday, almost two years to the day after her doting grandfather came into the great wealth that some say was Brandi's misfortune.

The only granddaughter of Jack Whittaker, winner of the richest undivided lottery jackpot in U.S. history, was found dead earlier this week of what may have been a drug overdose.

Whittaker and others say her sudden access to vast wealth had brought new friends and dangerous habits.

``Since she won the lottery she had too much money,'' said Becky Layton, who once took care of Brandi when she lived with her grandparents. ``I could point fingers all day long. The money is the root of it all, I would say.''

Brandi had her own apartment and several vehicles, including a Hummer and a Cadillac Escalade _ indications of a teen with too much money, Layton said.

``The very first few weeks after she won the lottery, they would get $10,000 out during the day. It was between all of them. Her mom would get out $5,000 and Brandi would only get out five more,'' Layton said.

Brandi was a quiet 15-year-old with a big smile when her already-wealthy grandfather won a $314.9 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas Day 2002. He took his winnings in a $113 million lump sum.

Her Dec. 5 death was the latest in a series of misfortunes that have befallen Whittaker's family since then.

Among them: Whittaker's home and his vehicles have been hit with a rash of break-ins. He was arrested twice this year for drunken driving, and a judge ordered him to check into a rehab center by Jan. 2. And in September, an 18-year-old friend of Brandi's, Jesse Tribble, was found dead in Whittaker's house from an overdose of cocaine, oxycodone and methadone. (Tribble once claimed that he had been hired by Whittaker to be Brandi's driver at $500 a day.)

Brandi's body was discovered Monday, wrapped in a sheet and plastic tarp, alongside a junked van at the home of her boyfriend, Brandon Crosier, near the town of Scott Depot. State Police believe she died at the home, and her boyfriend put the body outside.

``All I know is she OD'd and Brandon freaked out,'' Brandon's father, Steve Crosier, told reporters.

No charges have been filed. Investigators said they are awaiting toxicology results and have yet to disclose the cause of death. But on Thursday, Whittaker said: ``All of the problems I have had are because of my granddaughter's friends, her drug-using friends. I'm going to find them and put them in jail. It's not her fault; it's the people who sold drugs because they weren't taken off the street.''

While growing up, Brandi moved between her mother's home in Hinton, a former railroad community of 2,800, and Whittaker's home in Scott Depot. Her father died when she was young, and her mother at one point was treated for cancer.

During Friday's service in a Hinton funeral home, Brandi was remembered for the 17 things she loved, one for each year of her life. They included Whittaker, whom she called PawPaw, shopping, her cell phone, roses, and the rapper Nelly.

In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Whittaker said he regretted the toll the jackpot was taking on his family. Brandi had lost most of her friends, he said.

``They want her for her money and not for her good personality,'' he said. ``She's the most bitter 16-year-old I know.''