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Tricked-out SUV makes wounded warrior feel the love

LARGO

Marine Lance Cpl. Mike DeLancey's platoon was in an open field surrounded by palm trees in Iraq when the RPG fire began.

It was 2006 and the lifelong Pinellas Park resident was just one week away from the end of his second tour of duty.

Sgt. Mike Guynes, DeLancey's friend and platoonmate since 2004, heard someone say, "DeLancey's been hit."

"So I took off and started running toward him," said Guynes, now 28.

DeLancey had been shot by an enemy sniper. The bullet entered his shoulder, pierced his seventh vertebrae and eventually lodged in his lung.

"I turned him over and his big blue eyes were just staring at me," Guynes said. "I was yelling at him, 'You better not move. Stay with us. You better not go nowhere.' "

The former Pinellas Park High football player died twice on the helicopter but was revived. He was flown to a German hospital and later to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he was placed in a medically induced coma for three months. Confined to a wheelchair, he's still undergoing rehab today.

On Tuesday, more than 200 veterans and guests were on hand when DeLancey and Guynes met again for the first time in seven years. Guynes, who was also wounded and was medically discharged from the Marines in 2012, was a surprise visitor to help present DeLancey, 28, with the car of his dreams.

Clearwater-based BraunAbility, a manufacturer of mobility products, and the car-remodeling company West Coast Customs, best known for the now-defunct MTV show Pimp My Ride, teamed up to customize a 2013 Ford Explorer for DeLancey.

Most wheelchair-accessible vehicles are vans, but the camouflage-painted SUV that DeLancey received opens from the side and its automatic wheelchair lift places the driver directly behind the wheel. The SUV also has amped-up speakers and a 42-inch TV in the back.

DeLancey got to try out the vehicle while Guynes and the crowd at Custom Mobility in Largo watched.

"(Guynes) and I became real close throughout the whole deployment, training together, getting pushed to failure together," DeLancey said. "So when I saw him today, that was a pretty special moment."

For Guynes, the reunion meant closure.

"This ultimately helps bring things full circle for me. And that's important," he said.

DeLancey, now a business student at St. Petersburg College, said he was surprised by the SUV's accessibility.

"I was having concerns about getting behind the wheel at first. But when I tried it out, my wheelchair wasn't budging an inch. I was amazed," he said.

The festivities didn't end with the reunion and SUV presentation. DeLancey also threw out the opening pitch Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Rays game.

"This is incredible — the car, the amount of people who showed up today," DeLancey said. "It's good to feel loved like this."

Matt McKinney can be reached at (727) 445-4156 or mmckinney@tampabay.com.

Tricked-out SUV makes wounded warrior feel the love 06/25/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 12:28am]
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