Motel Mayhem: Shocking crimes at local lodgings

Motel Mayhem: Shocking crimes at local lodgings

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Police officers are stepping up patrols to try to crackdown on crime along one of Wilmington's busiest corridors.

The increased patrols follow a warning from the District Attorney to six motels along Market Street, advising the businesses to clean up their act or face being shut down.

The problem

"Prostitution, narcotics trafficking, domestic violence," Deputy Police Chief Mitch Cunningham lists off some of the crimes officers see at some motels along Market Street.

We checked the crime numbers and police have responded to a handful of these motels hundreds of times.
The following numbers represent how many times police were called to six motels of the motels over the past five years:

  • Budgetel: 1475
  • The Travelodge: 1380
  • The Carolinian: 1094
  • Red Roof Inn: 1041
  • America's Best Value Inn: 966
  • Ramada: 844

All six of these motels got letters from the District Attorney in December, warning them to take action to curb the crime or they will be shut down.

The letters came shortly after a deadly shooting at the Carolinian last year.

No charges were filed in the killing because it was a case of self defense.

It prompted the police and DA to take a closer look at the motels.

"When we're talking about this corridor which is the busiest in our community, it's a problem that's hiding in plain sight," District Attorney Ben David said. "It's something that's not acceptable as we drive down the street. To see people that are clearly impaired wondering out onto the street curbs. To see people engaged in things like prostitution, clearly committing the law in open day light."

The problem has local business owners concerned.

Drew Keller, who owns Ivy Cottage, located at the corner of Market and Mercer Street, said it's frustrating to watch.

"The drug and violence is after hours when we're closed but the prostitution is when we're open," he said. "It's very frustrating because you don't want to have that portrayal of being in the bad area of town. It's not a bad place it just has its quirks."

For more of what Keller said, click here.

Concerns from customers

Families who have stayed at the motels say they've seen the same kind of activity in broad daylight.

"You'd have a car pull up and 5, 10 minutes, leave and then not see them again," said Lisa Smith, who checked in to the Carolinian.

"It is one of the cheaper hotels in Wilmington and you know, when you're visiting with kids, on a budget, that way you'd have a little bit more money to spend on the kids," she said.

Smith said she tried to get a refund because she didn't want to stay there but the motel refused.

She and her family ended up going anyway.

"We decided to leave and go down to Walmart in the parking lot, lay the seats down and go to sleep for a little while," she said.

Police response

Deputy Police Chief Mitch Cunningham tells us police have increased their presence along the Market Street corridor.

"We've seen several arrests and in some cases working with the hotels for them to change their practices and be more attentive to potential criminality under their roof," he said.

Cunningham said they've noticed many of the problems here are being driven by human trafficking.

"Some of these girls are dealing with domestic violence situations, use of heroin and other drugs, they're trying to overcome a lot," Cunningham explained.

To help overcome this issue, representatives from the federal government's Bureau of Justice Assistance are coming to train Wilmington Police officers on how to respond and deal with human trafficking.

Cunningham thinks tackling trafficking will help reduce crime overall.

Cunningham said he sees a lot of potential in this corridor if the motels make changes.

"I would love to see folks re-envisioning this area to be just a beautiful gateway to one of the nicest cities in the country," Cunningham said.

Motels' response

We went to all six motels to find out what they're doing to curb crime on their property.

We couldn't get anyone to talk to us on camera.

The owner of the Carolinian did speak to us on the phone.

He said he's taking action in response to the DA's letter.

The motel is no longer allowing "locals who aren't regulars" to stay there and if workers see illegal activity on the site, they're asking guests to leave.

What's next

According to the deputy city attorney, Meredith Everhart,  the city has used the "nuisance abatement" process in the past to shut down problem spots like the Rhino Club and the Chestnut Food Mart.

Everhart said a few of the motels have responded to the DA's letter, indicating they are willing to do their part.

She wouldn't say which ones responded. She did say if they do not comply or make changes, closing them down could take several months.

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