The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 20, 2012

VIDEO | Central City woman turns key to new car

JOHNSTOWN — Although hundreds filled The Galleria concourse in front of Boscov’s department store on Thursday night, only one went home with the keys to a brand new car.

The “Win a New Car” contest from The Laurel Auto Group, The Tribune-Democrat and Forever Broadcasting brought out nearly 200 “golden ticket” holders and placed 10 randomly drawn finalists in the driver’s seat with a key.

Only one would start the ignition and declare the winner.

There were four 2013 sedans for the winner to choose from: A Ford Focus, a Nissan Sentra, a Toyota Corolla and a Hyundai Elantra.

On the stage, The Tribune-Democrat Publisher Robin Quillon, Laurel Auto Group Chief Operating Officer Matt Smith and Forever Broadcasting Production Director Al Steele took turns spinning the gilded drum holding the entrants’ names and announcing the finalists.

Johnstown Tomahawks tickets and various gift certificates for local eateries were drawn as door prizes.

Smiling bystanders emerged from the crowd to cheers of applause, coming forward to claim their door prizes or take their place in the row of finalists.

The moment of truth came around 6:30, when the finalists chose a random key out of a box and stuck it in the ignition, turning gently. The first seven keys were duds, leaving their owners and the crowd quietly disappointed. Many entrants said they simply enjoyed the experience.

“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” said finalist No. 6, Ed Stetz. “I was hoping (to win). But it was great. I never expected (to be a finalist) but still, no bananas.”

It wasn’t until Freda Labuda, 73, of Central City, slotted her key and turned it that the familiar clicking of the starter was drowned by the roar of the crowd. Labuda said her family’s never won anything this huge – ever.

“I just knew it was gonna (turn over),” she said. “I just believed that I was gonna win it. Everybody said, ‘No, don’t go up there, it’s raining, it’s nasty weather.’ I said, ‘I’ve got to go.’ ”

“My mom’s always been lucky but she’s never been this lucky,” said Labuda’s son, Harry Hillegass of Baltimore. “She told me she was going to win when she got the certificate (in August).

“When her name was picked, I knew she was going to win.”

She said she’s not sure if she’ll drive away with the Corolla or the Focus, but she has until the end of the year to make her pick.

Smith spent time after the drawing showing each of the cars to Labuda and letting her get behind the wheel.

“I think she’s gonna sleep on it and tell us what she thinks,” he said.

Labuda said she was leaning toward the Ford.

“Because we’re Ford people,” she said.

It’s a huge upgrade from her current cars – one that’s 6 years old and one that’s 14 – and said she’ll most likely pass those down to family members. Hillegass seemed excited at that prospect.

“Hopefully, I’ll get their other car,” he said with a grin.

Although she was obviously beaming, Labuda said the whole thing is a bit much to process.

“I just can’t tell you. It’s the best,” she said.

“I still feel like I got butterflies. It’ll sink in soon.”

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