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Elderly Woman Who Died in Brooklyn Fire Was Bedridden, Family Says

By Meredith Hoffman | January 29, 2013 8:34am

SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG — She sewed handmade patterned dresses for her daughter, touched hundreds of high school students with her kindness, and was "friendly to everyone" in Williamsburg, where she lived for 70 years.

But in the final years of her life, Nelly Bermudez, 78 — who was killed in a fire Saturday night in her Ross Street apartment — was bedridden and living alone on the building's 12th floor, her daughter said.

The 11 p.m. accident, which fire officials believe began with Bermudez's lit cigarette in her living room, came as a complete shock to the elderly woman's family, who said her grandson had just left her home two hours earlier.

"My son was with her Saturday evening and I spoke with her earlier that day on the phone," cried Bermudez's daughter, Aracelys, 45. "We said 'I love you' to each other. Those were the last words I said to her."

Aracelys Bermudez, who also lives in Williamsburg and saw her mother multiple times each week, said her mother, who lived in the Taylor-Wythe Houses public housing complex, had moved to Brooklyn from Puerto Rico as a child. She later worked as an assistant teacher at the former public school Eastern District High School.

"Everyone at my school loved my mother," said Aracelys Bermudez, who also attended the Grand Street institution and now works at a law firm in Manhattan. "She was very outgoing, never nasty and she never used cuss words.

"She always had a smile on her face," she added. "She was friendly to everyone she met."

Nelly Bermudez — who also has a son and has a big family scattered around the country, her daughter said — had dwelled in the Taylor-Wythe Houses since 1985 and had lived alone for years. Her health was "fine" until she fell and broke her hip in 2007, her daughter said.

Then Nelly Bermudez became bedridden in 2009, and she had a home attendant during the daytime and slept in a hospital bed in her living room, her daughter said.

"She had Parkinson's disease also. She was always afraid of falling," Aracelys Bermudez said.

When asked about the cigarette accident, she admitted that her mother "was a smoker" but declined to speak about it further.

"This is really difficult," she said.

Nelly Bermudez's family members are coming in town from Puerto Rico, New Jersey, Florida and other states for her funeral next week, her daughter said. A wake is scheduled for Feb. 7 from 4 to 9 p.m. at Ortiz Funeral Home in South Williamsburg.

The burial is scheduled for Feb. 8 at Evergreen Cemetery at 11:30 a.m.