TAMPA — Army veteran Shannon Richmond has used a wheelchair since she was paralyzed by a bullet nearly three years ago.
The single mother of two wasn’t shot in battle, but during a drive-by incident at a gas station in Cleveland that has left her unable to leave home except when others can drive her around. For Richmond, 41, that has meant trips mostly to the Stay in Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center in Tampa, where she’s working toward a greater degree of mobility.
She takes a big step toward that goal this week.
Tuesday morning, the sons of a decorated Vietnam War veteran who recently died donated their father’s specially equipped 2011 Chevy Malibu to Richmond.
"We decided to do this for our father, because he tried as much as he could to help out veterans," Army Master Sgt. Ian Smith said.
His father, former Army 1st Sgt. Robert Smith, died at age 72 in January. Twice wounded in combat and the recipient of two Purple Heart medals and a Bronze Star with a V for valor, the elder Smith lost both his legs to disease and used the hand pedals on the white Malibu to get himself around.
The gift came about through serendipity.
Ian Smith and his brother, Troy, posted on Facebook that the car was available, and someone passed the news along to Dave Winters of the Black Dagger Military Hunt Club. The nonprofit organization provides shooting sports programs for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.
Winters reached out to his network and got a quick response from Romy Camargo, who knows a thing or two about using a wheelchair.
Camargo is a medically retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 who, as a member of the 7th Special Forces Group, was shot in the throat by a bullet from a Taliban sniper in 2008.
Soon after Richmond was paralyzed in the July 2015 drive-by, Camargo and his wife, Gaby, opened Stay in Step as a way to help people who have been paralyzed.
Richmond joined as a client last July. Working with Camargo and other wounded veterans has been inspirational, she said.
"I never deployed," said Richmond, who now lives in Pinellas County. "These guys are the true heroes."
Richmond serves as an advocate for others who have been hurt by crime.
"I had to figure out what to do all by myself," she said. "So I decided I wanted to help others."
Camargo put Richmond in touch with the Smith brothers.
Shortly after 9 a.m., she wheeled out to the parking lot, toward the Malibu, where the Smiths were waiting.
"I just took lessons on how to drive this kind of a car," she told them.
Using a board that allows her to transfer her weight from the chair to the car, she slid behind the wheel, started it up and smiled.
"This is going to totally boost my morale," she said. "Now I can go where I want to and leave when I want to."
Contact Howard Altman at (813) 225-3112 or [email protected] Follow @haltman.