Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Vinny Coakley, who sought to honor son killed on Sept. 11, dies at age 78

MADEIRA BEACH

To Vinny Coakley, watching the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 was bad enough. Mr. Coakley, a New York native who lived on Long Island then, stared at the television screen as the broken first tower exhaled smoke and flames.

He was watching when another plane bit into the second tower and exploded, but even then did not suspect the worst.

Mr. Coakley thought his son, New York City firefighter Steven Coakley, was not working that day. He was wrong.

Sept. 11 would remain a line of demarcation for the rest of his life, casting a shadow over even the most joyous occasions. Before that day, Mr. Coakley had achieved most of his ambitions, drunk deeply of quiet pleasures, such as the loving restoration of old cars, and savored his children's success.

His bond with his son Steven stood apart from all other relationships. For years he had spent his free time in Madeira Beach, helping Steven restore a salmon-colored waterfront home he bought in the mid 1990s.

The younger Coakley had an unusual living arrangement, working double and triple shifts for the New York City Fire Department to maximize his time in Madeira Beach, where he worked on the home he planned to inhabit permanently after he retired.

Toward that dream, father and son stockpiled time and companionship — caulking windows, spreading stucco and tacking 16-penny nails into joists.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Steven flew back to New York for the last time. He was ending his shift the next morning at Firehouse 217, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, when a call came in about an emergency at the World Trade Center.

"He was finishing his shift at 9 a.m.," Mr. Coakley wrote to the Madeira Beach Communicator Newsletter upon the 10-year anniversary of the tragedy, "but they say he jumped on the last truck out of the station to help his buddies. About 10 a.m. I got a call from the station that Steven was missing."

He later learned that Engine 217, Steven's truck, had arrived at the South Tower when both buildings were aflame. Steven Coakley was last seen in the lobby of the South Tower, shoving people clear of falling debris.

Months later, DNA from a bone fragment finally confirmed his death. His father began the restoration project of his life — that of his own soul.

Vincent Coakley was born in Queens and grew up in a tightly knit neighborhood.

"In those days, you dated within the vicinity," said Carol Coakley, his wife. "There were 16 of us who grew up together, and eventually married a girl on the block or a boy on the block."

He enjoyed breathing life into anything old and battered. There was, for example, the 1934 Ford he had adopted — with scurrying mice beneath the rumble seat.

He aimed for authenticity, not candy-apple glitter. "He made it like it was at the time," his wife said.

Over the years he drove a semitrailer truck, then hauled oil. For a while, he and Carol had an antique shop. He gave it up and returned to trucking. He read National Geographic and watched the History Channel.

Simple pleasures like that sufficed — before Sept. 11.

The first couple of years afterward, Mr. Coakley could not bring himself to spend much time at the house in Madeira Beach.

Around the end of 2003, he took a solitary camping trip to Florida. After sightseeing and walking the beach in the Keys, he decided to visit the house.

Before long, he was fixing the place up, landscaping the front yard and repainting Steven's 25-foot boat. "I found out this is exactly where I belong," Mr. Coakley told a reporter in 2004, "because this is Steven. I feel closer to him here. I feel like I am fulfilling his dreams."

Since then, Mr. Coakley finished adding a second story to the home. He and Carol bonded with others who had lost family members Sept. 11. He made a display with the names and photos of the 343 firefighters killed.

He mounted the display in front of his home for Steven's fellow firefighters, who came down every fall to remember him.

Hundreds more photos of Steven, along with his medals and plaques, lined the walls inside the home.

"We never spoke about, 'How bad are you taking this?' said Carol Coakley, 75. "But I think he took it worse than me."

Yet little by little, he was moving forward. He gained approval from the city for a monument honoring Steven and the other firefighters who died. A concrete firefighter stands next to a hydrant and a plaque, dedicated in 2005 on the Bay Point Drive bridge.

That kind of activism, coupled with his support of a new monument on the Tom Stuart Causeway and other beautification projects, earned Mr. Coakley the 2009 award by Madeira Beach as the city's citizen of the year.

In recent years, Mr. Coakley underwent multiple surgeries to combat skin cancer, his wife said. On Jan. 18, a Pinellas Park employee found him in his truck at a park, where he had apparently pulled over on the way to a doctor's appointment.

His family believes he died of heart failure. He was 78.

On Saturday, friends from the Tampa Bay area and New York firefighters gathered at Mohn Funeral Home in Seminole.

This time, they studied photographs of Vinny Coakley, a man who had done much to memorialize others and to make his city a better place.

Times photographer Cherie Diez contributed to this report.

Comments
Focus crossover and Mustang will be only Ford sedans sold in North American dealerships

Focus crossover and Mustang will be only Ford sedans sold in North American dealerships

DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it will shed most of its North American car lineup as part of broad plan to save money and make the company more competitive in a fast-changing marketplace.The changes include getting rid of all cars in...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
The Lightning is fun, but does its playoff run translate into dollars for Tampa?

The Lightning is fun, but does its playoff run translate into dollars for Tampa?

TAMPA — As the Tampa Bay Lightning wait for the Boston Bruins to come to town for the next round of playoffs, the city’s business community — large and small — say they’ve already won this NHL postseason.At WestShore Plaza this week, with blue and wh...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Rescuing the rescuers from the trauma of seeing buddies crash to their deaths

Rescuing the rescuers from the trauma of seeing buddies crash to their deaths

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE — In his mind, Lee Von Hack-Prestinary kept circling the crash site.His friends were in the wreckage below, and he couldn’t help.The memory brought him to tears.Seated across from him, at Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Arrest made in stolen St. Petersburg car with baby inside

Arrest made in stolen St. Petersburg car with baby inside

ST PETERSBURG — A man accused of stealing a car with a baby inside earlier this week was arrested early Thursday morning when police spotted him in another stolen car. Rashad Webb, 19, no known address, was arrested around 2 a.m. after officers spott...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 8-4 win over Orioles

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 8-4 win over Orioles

Marc Topkin's takeaways from the Rays 8-4 win over the Orioles on Wednesday:* RHP Alex Cobb is going to be Alex Cobb again. But it seemed clear from watching him against his old Rays mates he's not quite ready yet, the result of signing in late March...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trump says Cohen represented him in

Trump says Cohen represented him in "Stormy Daniels deal"

President Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday for the first time that his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen represented him in efforts to silence Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who has alleged a sexual encounter with Trump more than a de...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Three things to know about new Land O’Lakes football coach Chad Walker

Three things to know about new Land O’Lakes football coach Chad Walker

Chad Walker, 34, is the new football coach at Land O'Lakes, inheriting a team that went 4-5 under Brian Wachtel in 2017. Walker played college football at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., from 2002-05. He didn't move to Florida until Jan. 1, 20...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecast in first quarter

Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecast in first quarter

TAMPA — Outback Steakhouse parent company Bloomin’ Brands reported first-quarter earnings of $65.4 million and a 68 cents net income per share.The locally based company, which also owns Carrabba’s and Bonefish Grill, posted $1.12 billion in revenue. ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan makes offer for Wembley Stadium

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan makes offer for Wembley Stadium

LONDON — Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has made an offer to buy Wembley Stadium from the English Football Association, increasing the prospect of an NFL franchise in London.Wembley has staged regular-season NFL games since 2007 and the Jagua...
Updated: 1 hour ago
HUD Secretary proposes raising rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies

HUD Secretary proposes raising rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies

WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed far-reaching changes to federal housing subsidies Wednesday, tripling rent for the poorest households and making it easier for housing authorities to impose work requirements.Ca...
Updated: 1 hour ago