Parrish couple helps sinkhole family

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 18, 2010 

PARRISH — When the earth opened up and ate a Tampa Bay couple’s car, total strangers stepped into the breach to help.

William Palmer Jr. and his wife Kathy, of Parrish, recently saw a news report about the sudden demise of Sean and Sandy Burnham’s car, after an enormous sinkhole opened up in their Tampa condo complex, and swallowed the vehicle.

The couple’s insurance did not cover the loss of the car, said Sean Burnham, an unemployed diesel tech looking for any type of work.

“Our hearts went out to this couple, we talked about it, and I got in touch with the Red Cross and said to these people: ‘We’d like to buy you a car,’ ” said William Palmer. “They were absolutely awestruck.”

The Parrish Good Samaritans found a partner in Dan Norris, general manager for Brandon Hyundai Mitsubishi, who provided the 2001 Volvo that eventually went to the Burnhams.

When William Palmer called, Norris said, “I told him, ‘I’ll let you buy something wholesale, I’ll pay tag, tax and dealer fees.’ ”

When both families arrived at the dealership, Norris had several possibilities waiting.

“We said, ‘Pick whatever one you want,’” Kathy Palmer said.

“They decided they wanted the Volvo. My husband wrote a check out for the dealership, they drove away in the car the same day,” she said.

The Palmers paid about $1,500 of the discounted price of $2,564, and the dealership picked up the rest, along with the cost of license tags, tax and dealers’ fees, said Norris.

“If he was wanting to do that, we should do something, too,” said Norris, explaining his own generosity. “Our tagline is, ‘Do the right thing.’ ”

Sean Burnham, 39, said the car works perfectly, and was thankful for the unexpected kindness.

“It makes us feel great,” said Burnham, whose family includes daughters, Hannah, 4, and Sierra May, 11.

The Burnhams were shocked when they awoke last Sunday at the Bordeaux Village Condominiums to find their 1995 Toyota Camry at the bottom of a nearly 30-foot-deep sinkhole outside their home.

Sean Burnham used the car during the day to look for employment, while his wife worked as a clerk at a convenience store.

The Palmers own and operate Bankcard Processing Inc., of Parrish.

“We’ve been very blessed, my wife owns the business, I manage it for her, it’s a situation we have many clients in Manatee and Sarasota County, and our business has flourished,” said William Palmer, 64.

In 2002, the Palmers moved here from Bucks County, Pa., in order to care for elderly parents who live in Ellenton, Kathy Palmer said.

“I’ve always hoped I could be at a point where I could do things like this,” said William Palmer. “If you haven’t ever done this, you don’t know the joy in giving. We get such pleasure out of it, doing for others.”

It’s not the first time the Palmers have stepped in to help. When they lived in Pennsylvania, they financially helped the family of a young girl who suffered from cancer, Kathy Palmer said.

A couple of years ago, they helped a Tampa family whose home had burned down, she said. And at Christmas, they take food to the Palmetto Police Department staff as a goodwill gesture, she added.

This time, William Palmer had initially wanted to remain anonymous, he said; but others convinced him to go public.

“People need to know you’re doing this, all the bad stuff that happens, the oil spill, kidnappings and murders,” he said. “It’s nice to know there’s a story with a happy ending.”

— The St. Petersburg Times contributed to this story.