33-year love story ends in instant

A trucker's wife learns he was killed in a fiery crash after he misses their regular breakfast.

Published March 31, 2007

ZEPHYRHILLS - Two weeks ago, Ronald Kennedy came home with good news.

He finally got the green light from his bosses at Penn Tank Lines, a Malvern, Pa.-based company, for a shorter, four-day work week.

Ronald drove tanker trucks for a living. His shift ran a grueling 14 to 16 hours, straight through the night. By the time he got home, it would be 8:30 a.m. His wife, Dorothy, would catch up with him at the breakfast table, before she went to work and he headed to bed.

Bacon, eggs and grits were his thing. He liked to keep a Southern touch.

But breakfast grew cold Thursday morning, even as firefighters more than 60 miles away were cleaning up the wreckage from a fuel truck that crashed on Interstate 375 in St. Petersburg. The wreck ignited a fiery explosion Wednesday night that killed the 47-year-old driver.

It was Ronald.

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They were neighbors in Orlando 33 years ago.

She was 15 then, blond and petite. He was 14, already swiftly reaching toward his full-grown 6-foot-2 height.

"Green eyes, brown hair," she said. Then wistfully caught herself: "And salt and pepper."

They became friends, colleagues and lovers - sometimes all at once, sometimes one or the other.

Life wasn't always easy. They would come apart, then get together again. At times, Ronald struggled financially, and there were periods when he sought out homeless shelters, Dorothy said.

In their early 20s, they took off for Alaska in search of adventure and a living. They worked a fishing boat in Dutch Harbor together, gutting and quick-freezing fish.

Something about those long Alaskan nights would produce their only child, Megan, now 25.

"Anything we did in life, we did together," Dorothy said.

For six years, they drove a semitrailer truck together all over the country and beyond, to Quebec, before coming back to Florida. They settled in Zephyrhills, living in a little house with a front porch, the one Ronald inherited from his dad.

They grew a small garden together, lush with Arica palms, Australian tree fern and kalanchoe. There, Ronald would pluck at his Fender Stratocaster guitar in his free time and tend to the yard.

"He had a mean Garth Brooks, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Cat Stevens," Megan said. "Self-taught, too."

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Things got more comfortable. Six years ago, Ronald found the job with Penn.

But he never forgot the difficult years. He began giving back, quietly making donations to hospitals and homeless shelters.

"He never forgot anyone who helped him," she said.

He liked his new job, she said. Loved his colleagues.

She wasn't so keen about the hours. It meant they had only minutes to share each weekday, always at the breakfast table with bacon, eggs and grits.

She waited Thursday morning. And waited. And waited.

Finally, she made some calls. She got somebody at his company. They told her Ronald was dead.

His extra day off wouldn't matter any more.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at 813 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.