By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Regina's current nurse answers the door, revealing a living room carpeted in bright pastel shag. A white leather sofa faces the television. In the distance a balcony overlooks the green fairways of the Turnberry Isle golf course. Just off the living room is a small kitchen decorated with fading, garish wallpaper. A tiny woman in a blue nightgown sits at a small table, eating a lunch of fruit-flavored yogurt. A shock of gray hair rises above her head, revealing eyes that are bright and focused. She offers a greeting in a strong voice sweetened by a mild Southern accent. "You'll have to speak up," she says with a broad smile. "I'm hard of hearing."
Regina's smile vanishes, however, at the mention of her relationship with Bridget Garcia. "We're through with all that," she snips. "The case, everything, it's all closed." She refers all questions to her lawyer, Michael Snyder, adding one caveat: "Don't believe anything Bridget says. She is an accomplished liar. She is a very accomplished liar."
Regina was born 87 years ago in Washington, D.C., into a prominent family. Her father helped found the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Her sister, Miriam Ottenberg, won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the now defunct Washington Star. Her mother, Russian immigrant Nettie Ottenberg, helped write the District of Columbia's juvenile-court law. At age 75, after she won funding from the U.S. Senate for one of her pet causes, Nettie became known as the Mother of Day Care. The Ottenberg Bakery, founded by Regina's grandfather Isaac, remains a family-owned Washington institution.
Regina relocated to Florida with her husband, Jerry, an engineer. She raised their two boys and worked as a psychiatric social worker. Even after she retired, Regina remained active. She devoted herself to the National Council of Jewish Women, where she served as vice president of community service. She supported the Democratic Party. After son Daniel chose to settle in the Middle East, she joined the Association of Parents of American Israelis, serving as secretary. Her activities continued even after Jerry died in 1984.
But about five years ago, she suffered a mild stroke. Ever since then she has been in the care of a private nurse, though friends stress that she retains her keen intellect and drive. "Regina is a lovely, refined lady, a tremendous lady," offers Wilma Morrison Friedman, a Bonavida neighbor. "I'm much younger than Regina, yet even into her eighties, she was driving me to Bible-study classes at Beth Torah. She's amazing."
There were problems with the nurse who preceded Bridget. "This woman was very crass and insensitive to Mom," reports Daniel Greenhill during a telephone interview from Israel. "She acted in a dictatorial fashion, arguing, for instance, if you asked her to turn down the kitchen radio instead of keeping it blaring all day long." Neighbors gently complained that Regina sometimes smelled of urine.
In June 1998 the family replaced that nurse with Bridget Garcia. Bridget was 48 years old at the time. Although she was born and reared in St. Croix, she moved to Florida more than 25 years ago at the urging of a sister who had already relocated. In time she married a Honduran man, gave birth to two daughters, and eventually divorced, claiming her husband was too jealous.
While in St. Croix, Bridget typed memos and legal briefs in a lawyer's office. After moving to Florida, she found work folding towels at a Miami Beach hotel. To escape this low-paying drudgery, she attended a vocational school to earn certification as a nursing assistant. Although her occupational choice provided a step up from folding towels, CNAs toil in a low echelon of the medical field, well below registered nurses in both pay and prestige.
Bridget works primarily with the elderly, making beds and meals and ensuring proper medications are taken at the correct times. Sometimes she'll help a client for six months, until he or she recuperates from an illness. Often she'll stay longer than that. For more than 12 years she worked exclusively for a rabbi in Miami Beach, until his death. She followed that job with a two-year stint assisting a woman in Miami Beach until she too died. A few months later, a home health care agency placed Bridget with Regina. Bridget impressed Regina and her son Joel so much they hired her privately, to save on agency fees.
Bridget is tall for a woman, with a slow rolling walk. Her dark hair lies lacquered straight and parted on the left side. She does not wear makeup. She is a bit overweight, though she weighs nowhere near the 250 pounds listed in one court document. Her speech is seasoned with a charming Caribbean lilt. When meeting new people, Bridget offers her hand passively, limply. She seldom makes eye contact with anyone, often shyly turning her head down and away, as if by doing so she could render herself invisible.
At the Bonavida a comfortable routine developed. Regina rose every morning around 7 o'clock to read The Miami Herald. Bridget arrived around 9 and immediately began fixing breakfast. Together they might eat some Raisin Bran or perhaps oatmeal with a banana.