Early morning crash and fire closes hotel, uproots vacationers

— A few days into their Naples visits, several vacationers were uprooted Tuesday morning by a car crash that shut down their hotel and caused at least $100,000 in damages.

Damage to a transformer at La Quinta Inn and Suites, 1555 Fifth Ave. S., blew out power to the downtown hotel, which was at capacity with 103 rooms full.

"It was quite the fire," Naples Fire Battalion Chief Pete DiMaria said. "Flames (were) 10-15 feet in the air."

A Naples man was arrested in connection with the crash that caused the fire, which shot molten metal 30 feet from the transformer and set nearby woods on fire, DiMaria said.

Some hotel occupants awoke in the middle of the night to see the sparks and flames, while others slept through, only realizing there was a problem when rooms became stuffy due to the lack of air conditioning.

Hotel guests scrambled Tuesday morning to find a place to stay. Only 20 rooms were available at another La Quinta in East Naples.

With schools and universities on spring break around the country, Carol Alde and her husband were frustrated trying to find a new hotel room. They should be on the beach, she said, not sitting in the car, spending part of their week-long visit on the phone to be reimbursed by an online discount travel site they used.

"I've never had to look (for lodging) in the middle of a vacation," said Alde, 47, of Illinois. "It takes me back to pre-vacation."

After a foot chase and use of a Taser stun gun, Naples Police arrested Kristopher Sebrasky, 22, of the 1000 block of Cypress Woods Drive, Naples, in connection with the crash.

While one officer responded to the transformer fire around 3 a.m., another went to a domestic disturbance at the nearby Red Roof Inn. Police connected the cases when they found a front fender at the scene of the fire, and a Jeep Cherokee with front-end damage at the second hotel, according to an arrest report.

Sebrasky is accused of ramming into the transformer with the vehicle and fleeing the scene to the Red Roof Inn, where he was staying with his mother and brother. He was intoxicated during police questioning, an arrest report said.

He faces misdemeanor charges of driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident, and resisting a law enforcement officer.

The exploding transformer also spewed 50 gallons of mineral oil into a retention pond behind the hotel. Cleanup crews worked Tuesday to remove the oil. There was no contamination to open waterways.

La Quinta General Manager Stefan Mende estimated the cost to the hotel alone was $100,000 to repair damage to electrical wires.

Florida Power and Light was expected to finish their repairs Tuesday, and Mende hoped to reopen the hotel by today or Thursday. Reimbursements to guests were still being determined Tuesday, he said.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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