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Corvette's fate in sinkhole brings owner to tears

Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN - A Tampa, Fla., couple that donated one of the cars swallowed by a sinkhole at the National Corvette Museum says the car was "part of the family."

Kevin and Linda Helmintoller said they donated the red 2001 Mallett Hammer Conversion ZO6 Corvette just six weeks ago. They had not even travelled to see it at the museum yet before a sinkhole opened up early Wednesday morning and swallowed their car and seven other classic gems.

The couple visited the museum in Bowling Green on Saturday. Kevin Helmintoller said his car appeared to be underneath the others at the bottom of the hole.

"It definitely hurts, and I've cried," he said. "There's no question I'm definitely upset, but there's no way to conceive of anything like this."

Helmintoller said he discovered Corvettes at 16, when his aunt let him drive hers.

"I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," he said. "From that moment on, I said 'I'm going to own one of these.'"

He bought his first Corvette in 1996 and has owned a total of nine. The couple currently is on the waiting list for a Stingray.

Helmintoller said the Mallett Hammer that they donated had been on many racetracks and was so heavily modified that it was a little difficult to drive on the street. Donating it to the museum seemed like a good option.

"They would care about it as much as we do," Linda Helmintoller said.

Work to repair the Skydome, where the cars were located, should begin today, museum Executive Director Wendell Strode said. Stablizing the area so that the cars can be retrieved from the sinkhole could take from five to 10 days. The local fire department has estimated the hole is about 40 feet across and 25 to 30 feet deep.

General Motors Design in Warren, Mich., has said it will manage the painstaking work of repairing the eight prize vehicles.

But Kevin Helmintoller says he isn't sure there will be much left of his beloved Corvette if and when they do pull it out.

"It appears ours is by far the lowest" in the sinkhole, Helmintoller said. "There's no sign of it."

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