WASHINGTON — A family that was stymied for almost a year trying to recover the remains of their murdered brother from the grounds of Lake Mead took their frustrations straight to the top on Wednesday.
The brother of slain Las Vegas cabdriver Keith Goldberg confronted a senior leader of the National Park Service in a Senate hallway, demanding in an emotional exchange to know why it took so long “to get my brother’s bones back.
“I got partial bones back,” Jeffrey Goldberg told Dean Ross, Park Service deputy chief. “I got rib bones, a piece of a leg. I never got his whole body back.”
Keith Goldberg was declared missing on Jan. 31, 2012, after failing to show for a Super Bowl visit from his brother so they could root together for the New York Giants. After being told by authorities that Goldberg might never be found, his family oversaw 50 searches over 200 square miles of Southern Nevada outback until clues discovered that spring near the lake — clothing wrapped in plastic and a pair of eyeglasses worn by the victim — pointed to the federal park.
But managers of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area required the family to apply for permits and obtain a $1 million insurance policy before allowing their private recovery team to search for Goldberg’s body.
Months later, after the family raised money to buy insurance and finally secured entry to the park, a team from Red Rock Search and Rescue on April 14, 2013, found Goldberg’s remains within two hours.
“We waited so long to get access,” Jeffrey Goldberg told Ross, his voice rising and his hands gesturing in the air. “You know what that is like for a family member? I’m his brother. His mother was 80 years old at the time, her health was deteriorating.
“If it happened to you, if you had a family and you had a missing family member and there was a good possibility that person was over in that area, was murdered, and you can’t get there, what would you do?”
Members of Congress who heard the family’s story last year had called on the Park Service to apologize.
Goldberg told Ross the family has heard nothing.
“Nobody even called us, nobody said anything, nobody cared. It’s like we were nonexistent and that’s the part that hurts so bad, to have a murder in our family but then to go through all the bureaucracy. It’s crazy! It’s really crazy!
“I’m sorry but I have to let it out,” Goldberg said.
The Park Service leaves it to the discretion of local superintendents whether to grant waivers to allow search access to land in their jurisdiction. A bill by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., that was reviewed Wednesday by the Senate public lands subcommittee would require federal land agencies to grant waivers to qualified search units. A similar bill by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., passed the House earlier this year.
“Apologies on my end. I don’t have line authority over those superintendents. My best effort is to educate them,” Ross told Goldberg, who was at the subcommittee hearing with his sister Joni Goldberg and her husband Paul Thompson. Ross offered to help develop a memorandum of understanding that would smooth further attempts by Red Rock Search and Rescue to access Lake Mead.
Jeffrey Goldberg lives in New Jersey while his sister and brother-in-law live in Alexandria, Va. They said they visited Keith Goldberg often in Las Vegas. Jeffrey Goldberg said the family finally received their brother’s remains in February, and held a memorial service at the end of May.
Keith Goldberg’s girlfriend, Georgene Ross, and her estranged husband, Christopher Ross, have been charged with murder.
In a similar case brought up by Heller at the hearing, Air Force Staff Sgt. Antonio Tucker went missing at Lake Mead on June 23, 2012, and was presumed drowned. Yet a private dive team was unable to get into the water until April 14, 2013, after almost 10 months. They recovered Tucker’s body two days later.
“No families should have to go through what the Goldberg and Tucker families had to endure,” Heller said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the subcommittee chairman, asked officials from the Bureau of Land Management, the Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service why Congress has to pass laws to give them authority to do what should be “just common sense.”
“In a nutshell what happens is people want to be able to work with the agencies in a partnership and sometimes we don’t see that willing partnership coming from the agencies,” Manchin said. “Signing a waiver is pretty simple.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.