Hotel Prank Causes $115,000 In Damages
Phone hoax targeted guest at Nebraska Holiday Inn
JANUARY 14--A Nebraska Holiday Inn suffered damages in excess of $100,000 this week when a phone prankster posing as a hotel employee convinced a guest to set off a sprinkler system, according to police.
The January 9 hoax targeting the Omaha hotel (pictured at right), which caused significant damage to seven guest rooms and a conference room, is identical to scores of prior calls placed to hotels by members of Pranknet, the online band of phone vandals. The group has often targeted Holiday Inn locations because callers can be directly connected to rooms without needing to know guest names.
In light of the six-figure damages, cops are investigating the prank as a felony, according to Officer Aarion Nielsen, an Omaha Police Department spokesperson. Nielsen added that investigators are actively pursuing leads, which may include tracking telephone records. Holiday Inn staff provided police with the phone number from which the hoax apparently was placed; calls to that number (in California’s 530 area code) are now met with an immediate busy signal.
The Omaha prank began with a call to Room 202, which was occupied by businessman Mark Thomas. Posing as a hotel employee, the male caller told the 47-year-old Thomas that a maid had broken a gas line. Thomas was directed to place wet towels at the base of his door, so that dangerous fumes did not enter his room.
The caller, who claimed to be following Fire Department instructions off a computer, then told him to unplug all electrical devices and open the room’s windows, Thomas recalled in a TSG interview. The hoaxster, he added, was “very self-assured and sounded like he was working from a script.”
An Omaha Police Department report notes that the caller then directed Thomas to “break the red glass vial in the sprinkler.” This was purportedly necessary because the device could hold an electrical charge that could lead to an explosion caused by gas seeping into the room.
Thomas broke the bulb, setting off the sprinkler. As the room filled with water, the caller told Thomas that the shut-off valve was located behind the bathroom mirror, which had to be ripped off the wall. The guest complied, only to discover nothing behind the mirror.
The deluge lasted for about 15 minutes, flooding Thomas’s room and adjoining spaces, as well as causing significant damage (as seen above) to the Holiday Inn’s lone meeting space directly downstairs. Hotel owner Kurt Trivedi told TSG that he believed about 5000 gallons of water flooded the hotel, which he opened in 2009.
Trivedi said an insurance adjuster this week estimated that repairs to the hotel would cost approximately $115,000. The hoax, he said, has cost him the use of seven guest rooms and the meeting space, adding that repairs could take about three weeks. (3 pages)