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Settlement reached in group home attack

A circuit judge Friday will divide a $100,000 settlement among plaintiffs who sued the owner of a group home where three people died after an attack on New Year's Day 1989. Court records show that relatives of two of the murder victims and two of the surviving residents agreed to the settlement last month with Helen Tear, owner of the Reflections retirement home in Dade City.

Authorities have charged 89-year-old Henry Thomas, a resident of the group home, with the murders of Myrtle Smith, 73; Max Nickbarg, 90;

and Frank Tear, Helen Tear's father-in-law.

Friday, Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson will hear a motion to divide the $100,000, the cap of Helen Tear's liability insurance policy. The money will be divided among: Ralph G. Steiner, the executor of Nickbarg's estate.

Wesley Westgate and Dolores Durham, Smith's children. They, along with Steiner, claim that Tear is responsible for the deaths because of a lack of supervision.

Fred Godfrey, whose mother, Ruth Godfrey, was injured in the attack.

Lucy Mitchell, whose arms were broken.

William Davis, attorney for Godfrey, and Tom Kennedy, attorney for Westgate and Durham, did not return phone calls from the Times.

Tear said Monday that the settlement was reached on the advice of her attorney, Albert Guemmer, and that she "had nothing to do with it." She did say, however, that the settlement was not an admission of negligence. Guemmer said he was not aware of a settlement.

"If they are keeping up communication, they are not doing it with me," he said. The motion to divide the settlement states that a copy was provided to Guemmer last month.

Thomas is in jail awaiting trial, scheduled for March 19.

In the motion filed by Davis, Judge Swanson will determine how much should be paid in the wrongful-death suits.

After that is determined, Godfrey and Mitchell have agreed to split the remainder, with Godfrey retaining 60 percent and Mitchell 40. Ruth Godfrey was more seriously injured than Mitchell.

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