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Friends step in to help paralyzed former St. Petersburg police officer get van customized

George Pinckney, a former St. Petersburg police sergeant, gets a kiss from Yvonne Cornelius, the daughter of his wife’s best friend, while picking up her kids Saturday. Cornelius thinks of George and his wife, Myra, as family. She’s trying to help the Pinckneys raise the $30,000 needed to replace their van.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

George Pinckney, a former St. Petersburg police sergeant, gets a kiss from Yvonne Cornelius, the daughter of his wife’s best friend, while picking up her kids Saturday. Cornelius thinks of George and his wife, Myra, as family. She’s trying to help the Pinckneys raise the $30,000 needed to replace their van.

PINELLAS PARK

Friends call George and Myra Pinckney's van "the Blue Bomber."

The nickname stopped being cute years ago.

The Pinckneys bought the their Ford E150 Econoline new off a dealer's lot in 1992. It was clean, crisp and shiny then.

Most importantly, it was the only way Pinckney, a former St. Petersburg police officer paralyzed nearly 35 years ago in a pool accident, was able to get around.

Yet in recent months, it has become apparent to everyone the Blue Bomber, although essential in the Pinckneys' lives, has not aged well.

The side door handle broke off. The air conditioner doesn't work. The water pump is shot. And after a few minutes of running, it overheats.

"It's been on its last leg for at least a year," said Rachel Smith, an engineering clerk for the city of St. Petersburg, who said the Pinckneys became her surrogate family when she moved to Florida a decade ago. "It's just a nightmare."

The van stopped in for good in July. George Pinckney, 70, has been confined to home since.

Now, friends, family and community members are trying to step in and help.

The nonprofit Helping Hands 4 St. Pete's Finest, which helps law enforcement families, recently purchased a 2012 Ford E150 van for $25,000, most of which came from donations.

The charity is donating the van to the Pinckneys. But it will take more funds — about $30,000 — to get the vehicle customized for George Pinckney's needs.

"George hasn't been out of the house in months," Smith said. "George and Myra hands-down are the most giving people that I know."

The 6-foot-4 military veteran became a quadriplegic July 15, 1979, after he dived headfirst into his backyard pool. Myra Pinckney, now 65, became his nurse in 1980. The two fell in love and have been together ever since.

George Pinckney uses a wheelchair and any vehicle he is in has to have a lift and other equipment.

Until this summer, the couple led an active life.

George Pinckney is a deacon at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. He hasn't been to a service since summer. The couple often went out to dinner, or to St. Petersburg for concerts and downtown events.

They've already had to cancel three of George Pinckney's doctor visits because he had no way of getting there. They're signing up for a wheelchair transportation service in the interim.

A friend loaned Myra Pinckney a two-door Geo Metro to use for errands. Each time she leaves without him, it gets a little harder — for both of them.

"I'm getting stir-crazy," George Pinckney said. "I'm stuck."

Myra Pinckney said the couple may have to take out a loan if they can't raise the money needed to finish the van soon. They put a lot adjacent to their home up for sale.

"It would be a terrific Christmas gift for us, to get the van" she said. "We're leaving it in God's hands."

Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-9643.

Fast facts

Want to help?

Donations for the Pinckneys are being accepted at any Wells Fargo bank branch. Just ask that the money go into the "George Pinckney Fund," account No. 8431105587. Checks can be made out to "Helping Hands."

Friends step in to help paralyzed former St. Petersburg police officer get van customized 10/23/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 10:17am]
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