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For Grieving Father, Daughter, It's One Day at a Time

Tragedies: Rosie and Jose Garcia lost everyone they loved in one fiery instant. Now, five years later, they struggle to move on with their lives.


PORT ISABEL, Texas — Five years after their family was killed, Rosie Garcia and her father, Jose, remain inseparable much of the time.

On weekends, they take walks along the shores of South Padre Island and later sit and meditate on a dune, escaping into the sound of the waves as the sun sets. They watch television together and drive to nearby Harlingen to visit an elderly friend affectionately called Uncle Bill. They sleep in the same room because Rosie says she is too scared at night--scared of dreams about her mother or seeing ghosts and hearing strange noises.

Both are frightened of losing each other.

In the summer of 1991, everyone dear to them was taken away.

It was on the second day of their vacation--June 23. They were in Mexico about 60 miles south of Laredo, Texas, when propane gas fumes suddenly filled their motor home and exploded, killing Rosie's mother, Gina, 34; brothers Tony, 15, Richie, 10, Ruben, 8, and Joey, 3; great aunt Serafin Quintal, 85; and aunt Maritza Ocampo, 21, who was five months pregnant.

Rosie, then 14, her father and a family friend, Gerardo Macias Guerrero, survived.

"I tell my dad that I've never been alone in my life," Rosie says, glancing at her father, a quiet man whose words don't come easily, whose mood is solemn, whose loss of family haunts him every day.

People come up to me and say, "You're a brave girl." But I don't think I'm brave. I just survived.

--Rosie, Los Angeles Times

Sept. 8, 1991

Rosie sits at a table, looking out through glass doors facing the Gulf of Mexico. She stares at a ship in the distance until her dog, Marty, grabs her attention. The puppy chases her tail, spinning like a top until she trips, and then springs, tongue dangling.

Now 18 and soon to become a senior at Port Isabel High School, Rosie can't stop laughing at the puppy's antics.

She brushes her long, brown, wavy hair away from her face, revealing scars that begin at her ears and trickle down to her jaw. She suffered third-degree burns over 70% of her body in the explosion. Half of her right ear was burned off and has been reconstructed. When she's ready, she'll undergo more surgery to correct the scarring on her face, arms and hands.

She always wears long sleeves and gloves, the fingertips snipped off. It's a look meant to disguise her scars. But her trendy black clothes, including black fingernail polish--a look she describes as "very L.A."--also gets her noticed. She is a teenager, she says. She says she's doing her best to be a typical teenager while coping with her anger and sadness.

She's svelte, pretty and outgoing, and maybe will play her flute in the school's marching band next year. She's lost more than 50 pounds--weight she gained while recuperating after the accident. And she doesn't lack for friends--male and female--who ring her constantly for dates, advice or to catch a movie. The attention showered on her, especially by boys, makes for an overprotective dad, she says. Rosie and Jose have their occasional arguments about her dating, her friends and making the right choices in life.

Rosie has already made a few: no serious relationships until high school graduation next year, then junior college, maybe a career as a computer engineer, and eventually marriage and two kids.

Before the explosion I was a part of a lot of things. After the explosion, everything seems to have changed.

--Rosie, Los Angeles Times

Dec. 16, 1991

Jose and Rosie moved to this small seashore community four years ago to get away from the painful memories of their former life in California. Their little house on North Shore Drive has been a home away from the family home in Valinda, a house Rosie's mother had been redecorating before their vacation to the Yucatan.

But they've also established this second residence to work with attorneys on a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against St. Louis-based Fisher Controls International Inc., manufacturer of the gas tank valve alleged to have caused the explosion. The case will begin in early March in Brownsville and is expected to last two weeks in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Attorney Ray Marchan, who befriended Jose Garcia after the accident, is representing the Garcias now. Marchan says no amount of money will "ever replace what Jose had. As a young person you have hopes of meeting the right person and spending the rest of your life with that person. And for Jose the innocence of that love is gone.

"I think it's kind of the same thing for Rosie," he says. "She can't ever be normal again."

Rosie and Jose will not talk about the trial, saying it's too distressing. Nor do they talk with friends they met here about their family.

Says Jose: "I don't like to tell people why I am here. It makes me feel sad."

Adds Rosie: "People ask real personal questions like 'How come you and your father are here?' They don't have to know."

Marchan says Jose and Rosie will take the stand and re-create--as they did in depositions--their horrifying ordeal.

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