Nikki Blonsky says she just wanted to treat her family—mom Karen, dad Carl and 14-year-old brother Joey—to a dream Caribbean getaway. "They're hardworking people, so I saved up some of my money and decided to take them," says the 19-year-old actress, who played Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 movie Hairspray
. After a week on the islands of Turks and Caicos, the family packed up. Says Nikki: "It was a lovely vacation."
It was about to take an ugly turn. While they waited for a plane home at Providenciales International Airport on July 30, a fight erupted between the Blonskys and the family of Bianca Golden, a contestant on the '07 season of America's Next Top Model
. The incident became tabloid fodder and was partially captured in a YouTube video. In the aftermath Nikki, Bianca and Carl were all charged with assault (see box), and Bianca's mother, Elaine, was hurt enough to be airlifted to a Florida hospital. "It was a big fight," says witness Esther Roy. "People were yelling; it was all confusion."
Both sides have very different accounts of the clash. In her first interview since the fight, Nikki tells PEOPLE things heated up when Bianca's brother George tripped a passenger who had been saving seats in the tiny airport. "He looked at me and said, 'What the f--- are you looking at, you fat white b----?'" She says Bianca—whom she did not recognize from ANTM
—entered the fray, and that when she asked the model to stop wagging her finger in her face, "she stood up, pulled her arm all the way back, and said, 'F--- you'. . . and she closed her fist and punched me to the left side of my skull."
But on the Oct. 8 episode of The Tyra Banks
Show, Bianca (who didn't respond to PEOPLE's calls for comment) says the fight started when Nikki was "very rude" to her aunt. She also accuses Carl Blonsky of "punching" Elaine Golden in the face and Nikki of kicking her mother in the groin. "Absolute lies," says Nikki. "I never, ever kicked her mother. My father never hit anybody." As for another claim—that the Blonskys were shouting "they got rabies!" at the Goldens—"we never said anything about rabies," says Nikki, adding, "it's disrespectful that somebody would say that I'm racist."
Now back home in Great Neck, N.Y., Nikki says she and her father, who has gone on disability from his job at the local water-pollution-control department, "are completely destroyed over being accused of something we didn't do." She says she experiences head pain; some nights "I wake up in severe nightmares, sweating, saying, 'Please stop hitting me!'" But despite everything, "we're a strong family," says Blonsky. "I know we'll get through this."
- With reporting by Steve Helling.