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Bedridden woman's death ruled neglect; family held

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Published:   |   Updated: June 26, 2013 at 07:38 PM

TAMPA - On the outside, the brown stucco house at 11029 Airview Drive in northwest Tampa appeared like a typical suburban home.

The owner, Osmond Montgomery Winston, often chatted with neighbors and took his grandchildren trick-or-treating.

But on the inside, things were far from normal, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Investigators on Wednesday arrested three of the home's occupants - Osmond Montgomery Winston, 68, and his daughters Hyacinth Winston, 43, and Belinda Winston, 39. All three, plus another son for whom an arrest warrant has been issued, are accused in what authorities are calling one of the worst cases of elderly neglect ever reported in the Tampa area.

Winston's wife, Mary, had been bedridden for three years with rheumatoid arthritis, but her husband and adult children neglected to take care of her, detectives said. The neglect was so bad, investigators said, that when 66-year-old Mary Winston eventually died, her death was ruled a homicide.

Mary Winston had developed ulcers on her body and a bedsore on her back so severe that it became an open wound, exposing her rib bones to open air, Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.

Bandages had been placed on the sores, but they weren't changed regularly and fused to her wounds, McKinnon said. By the time she died eight months ago, the skin on her legs had fused together and the room smelled of decomposition, feces and urine. And something else festered in the room.

"Maggots became active on and inside her body," McKinnon said.

Osmond, Hyacinth and Belinda Winston face charges of aggravated manslaughter of an elderly or disabled person. They are being held in Hillsborough County Jail with no bond set.

A warrant has been issued for Winston's son, Osmond Ignatius Winston, 45, who could be out of state, detectives said.

Osmond Montgomery Winston and his daughters lived with Mary on Airview Drive.

Mary Winston died Oct. 25 from septic sequelae, a complication brought on by her arthritis, according to an arrest report.

She was last seen alive four days earlier by her son, the arrest report said.

He admitted to being one of the caregivers, saw his mother's bedsores and admitted to detectives on the day his mother died that she needed medical attention, the arrest report said.

McKinnon said it took the state attorney's office took eight months to file charges against the Winstons because the agency was reviewing all the evidence in the case.

"You don't want to rush to judgement and an arrest until all the evidence has been collected," McKinnon said. "We had to wait for the toxicology report and the autopsy report."

Neighbor James Cole said he was unaware of Mary Winston's condition.

"I didn't even know the woman lived there," said Cole, 64. "It's a shock somebody died over there. My mother lives with me. She's 99 and I take care of her. I can't imagine this happening to anybody."

Nicole Stookey, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Children & Families, said one warning sign that an elderly person is being abused is if they're sequestered away from public view.

"One of the signs we look for in abuse is isolation," Stookey said. "People who are abused tend to be isolated from the community."

Cole said he didn't know Osmond Montgomery Winston well, but the two often chatted when they saw each other.

"We exchanged pleasantries from across the street," Cole said.

Cole, who has lived on Airview Drive for 25 years, described the current state of his neighborhood as lower middle class. A number of elderly couples live there, he said, so it's not unusual to see ambulances parked along the street.

Stookey said Mary Winston's case is a rarity. Most cases called into DCF's elderly abuse hotline deals with milder forms of abuse, such as verbal or financial.

"I am not aware of cases like this happening on a regular basis," Stookey said. "This is tragic. No one should be subjected to this abuse for that length of time."

DCF fielded more than 64,000 calls to its hotline of suspected abuse of seniors or adults with disabilities last year.

That's about 20 percent of all abuse cases, according to the agency. About one in six cases of elderly abuse is never reported, agency officials estimate.

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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