They are supposed to be safe havens for people fighting addiction. Sober homes are popping up all over South Florida, but tonight two South Florida families say their loved ones died while living in them. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.

WSVN — It was a terrible sight just before Valentine’s Day. The body of Rick Miller was found floating in a Margate lake, a victim of drowning. He had been living in a sober house that borders the lake.

Carmel Cafiero: “What happened?”

Rick Riccardi: “I wish I knew. I have no idea what happened.”

Rick Riccardi runs the Fellowship Living Facilities. The certified sober house is aimed at helping people overcome addictions.

Rick Riccardi: “This is life and death stuff, absolutely, yeah.”

The Margate Police Department does not suspect foul play in Miller’s drowning death, but the cause is a mystery. His wife and mother do not blame the sober house.

Bonnie Miller: “My son struggled for many years with a drug abuse problem, and he came here and this place gave us our son back.”

Both believe a medical problem may have caused Miller to fall into the lake, not a drug relapse. But not all sober homes are held in such high regard.

Maureen Sperling: “Matthew Shane Goldberg, my heart.”

Maureen Sperling is suing the sober house where her son Matthew lived. When things were good, when his addictions were in check, he was a popular chef, even serving President Clinton. But when things were bad, when he relapsed, he couldn’t work at all.

Maureen says that is why he checked himself in to the Harbor Recovery House in Pompano Beach.

Maureen Sperling: “He didn’t trust himself. He wanted to make sure he was being in a structured environment 24 hours a day.”

But Matthew did relapse. He ended up in a coma and passed away.

Maureen Sperling: “This never should have happened.”

Maureen has filed a wrongful death lawsuit that faults the sober house for not discovering Matthew for 8 to 12 hours. The lawsuit also claims a lack of oxygen caused his death, not drugs.

Maureen Sperling: (showing her wristband) “This says, ‘Forever in my heart,’ for my son.”

In a statement, an attorney for the sober home says his client “…extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Goldberg,” adding “the Harbor denies any wrongdoing in the matter.”

Carmel Cafiero: “The deaths come as sober home problems are being debated by legislators. Among the issues, lack of regulation and the impact when sober homes move into residential neighborhoods. Carmel Cafiero, 7News.”


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