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McKinney family tries to move on after loss

Rebecca McKinney's 2004 death has brought her loved ones together, her mother says.

By Thomas C. Tobin, Times Staff Writer
Published March 13, 2008

Sally McKinney, center, cries Wednesday while discussing the 2004 death of her daughter Rebecca. The teen was hit by a car as she crossed a busy street after getting off a school bus.
[Brian Cassella | Times]
Rebecca McKinney died after exiting her school bus.

TAMPA - The family of Rebecca McKinney called it "the accident." Their attorney called it "this family's horror."

Whatever the description, Rebecca's death after exiting a Pinellas school bus in 2004 has changed her family in ways good and bad.

Sally McKinney will forever replay the vision of her 16-year-old daughter crumpled on the pavement, the girl's big sister and a friend holding her, stroking her hair as paramedics arrived. It visits her daily and makes her feel helpless all over again.

Yet the family that remains grows closer. They are two parents in their 40s and three children at the dawn of adulthood. They talk more, appreciate each other more - so much so that Sally McKinney never wants it to end.

"Mary is 21 years old and I don't want to lose her. Doug is 18. I don't want him to ever leave home but I know he's going to. Jimmy - it's time for him to start thinking about moving out, too. He's 17 and graduating and moving on and I don't want my children to leave home any more ... I'm afraid to let them go."

The McKinneys spoke Wednesday for the first time since Rebecca's death and the litigation that began several months later, ending Tuesday with the School Board's approval of a $1.1-million settlement. While much is known of the accident and how it exposed serious problems with the Pinellas school bus system, the family has generally kept to itself.

But in an interview with the Times at the offices of their Tampa lawyer, Steve Yerrid, they opened up.

With the money from the settlement, the modest family from Clearwater plans to finally pay tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills that remain from Rebecca's three-day stay at Bayfront Medical Center.

They also plan to fix the air conditioning system in their home, which broke shortly before Rebecca was killed. "I haven't had air conditioning since," said Sally McKinney, who sat with her husband, James, and their daughter, Mary.

Sally McKinney also said she will never forget the parents, teachers, administrators and students who showed up at the hospital.

"We would not have been able to survive without them," Sally McKinney said. "And I want to thank them for my entire family."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

[Last modified March 13, 2008, 00:33:24]

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