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Former officer's humor helps in battle to beat head injury Benefit set for victim of motorcycle accident

They were a highly respected salt-and-pepper team, two gung-ho Buffalo cops who patrolled the city's Genesee Station precinct with contrasting styles that could have been the basis of a TV pilot.

Officer Jeffrey Moody was known as a savvy, street-smart cop, a steadying influence who used his contacts in his home precinct to take guns and drugs off the streets.

Officer Edward Penkalski's image was different. He was the one everyone remembered sprinting from his police car to make an arrest, with his blond ponytail halfway down his back.

The two high-energy cops were known to bicker now and then during their dozen years together, with Penkalski once driving away from a crime scene and leaving Moody to walk back to the station house.

A knee injury forced Penkalski into retirement in June 1999. Eight months later, Moody died after a brief illness.

Now Penkalski, 51, lies in Erie County Medical Center with a severe head injury, from a two-vehicle accident while riding his motorcycle on Route 16 in the Town of Holland last fall. State troopers said the other vehicle failed to yield the right of way and slammed into Penkalski's motorcycle.

His head injury was so severe doctors didn't give his family much hope when he was brought in the night of Nov. 28. He remained in a coma for about two weeks.

One of the Penkalski family's early visitors was Moody's widow, Danette, who told Roberta Penkalski, Eddie's mother, that Penkalski remains a strong link to the memory of her husband.

Danette Moody then provided the punch line: "God's not ready for the two of them up there, . . . the way they fought in the police car."

Penkalski faces a long road to recovery, starting with daily speech, physical and occupational therapy. "I hope he comes home," said his fiancee, Debra Brucato. "Whether he's 100 percent, that doesn't affect me in any way. As long as he still has his sense of humor, I'll be with him for the long haul."

To help fund the major renovations that will be needed in their Town of Tonawanda home, a benefit will be held from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday in the Varysburg Hotel on Route 20A. Tickets are $20.

For years, some friends have called Penkalski "George Carlin," both for the physical resemblance and his sense of humor.

Asked about the view from his eighth-floor ECMC room, Penkalski shot back, "They're afraid I'm going to jump."

His mother told about Penkalski's recent Christmas morning tradition of making up boxes of gifts for Moody's children.

"You've got a good heart, Eddie," his mother said.

"There's nothing in my head," Penkalski replied.

Cyndee Stelmach, Penkalski's sister, said nurses and doctors in the ECMC intensive care unit described Penkalski as the Miracle Man for surviving the accident. Surgeons took out a significant portion of his skull, temporarily putting it in his abdomen, to keep it alive, family members say. He spent 28 days in the ICU.

Family members are effusive about the care Penkalski has received at the hospital.

"We owe everything to ECMC," Brucato said. "They saved his life."

Penkalski didn't lack attention while in the ICU. His injury came just one week before two Buffalo police officers were shot. The stream of police officers visiting Officer Patricia Parete stopped by to visit Penkalski, too.

While he has lost much of his short-term memory, Penkalski remembered in detail a well-known arrest he and Moody logged. In December 1991, the two partners were sent to a house where a resident reported that a huge icicle had been thrown through a window. The officers responded and recovered four ounces of cocaine and $1,600 in cash.

So why did the resident call police? Penkalski was asked this week.

"Some criminals aren't too smart," he replied.

Once a cop, always a cop.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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