Fatal overdoses, police calls at West Melbourne hotel trigger City Hall crackdown

·6 min read

Support local journalism. Unlock unlimited digital access to floridatoday.com Click here and subscribe today.

A suspected homicide, three overdose deaths, narcotics activity and frequent police responses plagued Americas Best Value Inn & Suites last year on busy U.S. 192 in West Melbourne.

Now, the West Melbourne City Council is zeroing in on criminal activity at the two-story hotel near John Rodes Boulevard — which has been "a constant source of frustration for the Police Department," Police Chief Richard Wiley said.

West Melbourne police logged 362 business patrols last year at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites, Police Lt. Antonio Romano said. That's a sizable jump from 158 patrols in 2019 and 198 in 2020.

For comparison's sake, last year's total of 362 police patrols was 6.6 times more than the annual average of the other nine nearby hotels along the West New Haven Avenue corridor.

Council Member John Dittmore, a retired police officer, criticized deaths and crime at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites during the Dec. 14 City Council meeting. He floated the idea of filing a civil lawsuit asking a judge to declare the hotel a public nuisance if management cannot fix the problem — a step that could lead to the hotel's closure.

Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in West Melbourne.
Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in West Melbourne.

“This isn’t Cleveland or Detroit or Los Angeles or Philadelphia. This is West Melbourne, Florida," Dittmore said on Dec. 14.

"We’re a small community. And we have to take some action," he said.

Mystery grocery store: Aldi is coming to West Melbourne inside former Office Depot

'It's not about laying in bed and waiting.': West Melbourne hospice patient crosses skydiving off bucket list

Brevard city growth: Palm Bay-Melbourne ranks No. 3 in growth among U.S. cities in new U-Haul study

In a follow-up discussion Tuesday, the City Council talked about Americas Best Value Inn & Suites for more than an hour. Wiley delivered a PowerPoint presentation analyzing the hotel's crime statistics, and he unveiled a list of his department's crime-prevention business-practice recommendations.

Robert Williams, who recently started managing the hotel, told council members the business is initiating those recommendations "full force." He said these early measures are already having an impact.

"Simply not accepting cash payments and requiring a credit card or debit card upon check-in, I turned away personally at least 12 nefarious characters that I would not want on my property," Williams said of the past week.

"So that is already helping segue a lot of that unsavory business," he said.

Under City Attorney Morris Richardson's recommendation, the City Council will receive an update in about three months to evaluate the hotelier’s security efforts during the first quarter of the year.

"We appreciate everything you've said tonight," Richardson told Williams and hotel owner Barry Patel. "That said, we are going to be in trust-but-verify mode."

Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in West Melbourne.
Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in West Melbourne.

'Wedo not wish death upon anyone': Person of interest in woman's death at West Melbourne hotel dies of self-inflicted gunshot, police say

Lottery winner: West Melbourne man claims $1 million prize in scratch-off game

Diwa Inc., a Fort Lauderdale-based corporation, has owned the hotel at 4431 W. New Haven Ave. since 2008. The hotel has 115 rooms available to rent, with a typical 80% occupancy rate and average rate of $84 per night, an agenda report said.

Guests enter their rooms directly from the outdoors, rather than walking through a central lobby.

The week before Thanksgiving, Antonia Crum was found dead in a hotel room at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites. Then on Dec. 1, a 35-year-old man who police considered a person of interest in her death barricaded himself inside a home and fatally shot himself with a handgun after the Palm Bay SWAT team arrived.

"We had a homicide there. That investigation's coming to a close. And that was very disturbing," Wiley told council members.

"That was sort of like the straw that broke the camel's back, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Wiley said problems at the hotel are rooted in the nationwide opioid crisis. Citywide, officials reported three confirmed and eight suspected overdose deaths last year across West Melbourne. Seven of those 11 deaths occurred at hotels.

Three people fatally overdosed at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites, more than at any other city hotel. Details from the agenda report:

• Three women were arrested in July for transporting a dead body without a permit and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence after a 42-year-old man was found dead in a second-floor breezeway.

He had died from an accidental overdose from fentanyl and methamphetamine. One of the suspects was a former hotel employee.

• In February, one of the hotel's maintenance workers was found dead in a hotel room near prescription medications, drug paraphernalia and potential drug residue at the scene. The 40-year-old man worked and lived at the hotel.

• A 21-year-old female died in March from an accidental overdose of fentanyl, methamphetamine and eutylone. She was a guest at a nearby hotel, but she entered a room at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites with several other people to use drugs.

Antonia Crum.
Antonia Crum.

Romano said West Melbourne police have had "total cooperation" with Americas Best Value Inn & Suites during his 15 years on the force. Since discussing crime-prevention measures with Wiley and City Hall administrators on Dec. 28, hotel management has:

  • Upgraded and expanded exterior lighting.

  • Eliminated a discount weekly rate of $60 per night.

  • Stopped accepting cash payments for room rentals.

  • Ordered upgraded security cameras and signage indicating that the premises are under video surveillance.

  • Planned a parking pass system for guest vehicles, scheduled interviews for a new security guard position, and applied for a permit for new fencing.

"I'm really excited for the future. Because there is a lot of communication between us. And we can see here, these upgrades are really going to assist us in our investigations," Romano said.

Romano oversees his department's Special Investigation Unit, and he warned the hotel is on the SIU "radar" for 2022. So suspects may see police in marked cruisers — or they may not notice undercover officers monitoring their activities.

Patel told council members he plans to cooperate to improve his property.

"We want to eradicate what's going on, maintain the property better, do better business," Patel said.

Mayor Hal Rose noted the hotel's new exterior nighttime lighting while driving by last weekend: "I almost had to put my sunglasses on at night, it was that well-lit."

Rose also proposed that the city waive the hotel's building permit fees for crime-prevention upgrades, citing the uniqueness of the situation and enhanced public safety.

Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY (for more of his stories, click here.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or rneale@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @RickNeale1

Support local journalism. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Fentanyl deaths, police calls at West Melbourne hotel prompt crackdown