Rebecca Beitsch and Amy L. Edwards
Sentinel Staff Writers
7:55 PM EDT, July 8, 2009
Lisa Kantorski took the call from the person who claimed to be a front-desk clerk about a gas leak in their hotel room near Orlando International Airport.
She frantically relayed the information to her husband, Mark, an Indian River County deputy. He followed the caller's instructions ... and smashed the window of his room with a toilet tank.
"When I broke the window, I got suspicious," Mark said. "It didn't seem right, but she [Lisa] was panicking, so I continued."
Just before 7 a.m. Monday, the Kantorskis had no idea they were the latest victims of a prankster — or pranksters — whose tricks are sweeping the nation. The unknown protagonists dupe otherwise rational people into doing outrageous things, including driving trucks through storefronts and breaking hotel windows to test fire alarms.
With Lisa clutching their three kids, Mark listened to the caller as he barked out more instructions:
Break the mirror on the wall. Check.
Use the lamp to bash in the wall to get to the trapped man on the other side. OK.
Throw the mattress out the window and jump for safety. Out the mattress went.
Room 204 of the Hilton Garden Inn on South Semoran Boulevard was a shambles.
"I'm not one to argue much with her," Mark said. "When you slow down everything, the situation was kind of odd."
The Kantorskis never got the chance to jump. Hilton Garden Inn manager Samir Patel appeared at the door to address a noise complaint, an Orlando police report states.
Patel broke the news to the Kantorskis: There was no gas leak.
When police officers arrived, Patel said he recently received a memo from his corporate office warning about "dangerous pranks" pulled at hotels in other states. Patel did not return calls Wednesday.
Police don't know who called the Kantorskis, who were not arrested "because he was responding to what he believed to be an emergency," said Sgt. Barbara Jones, a police spokeswoman.
Rash of pranks throughout U.S.
The Monday incident follows others from across the country:
•In Arkansas, a caller posing as a sprinkler-company employee persuaded a motel employee to do more than $50,000 in damage to a motel as part of a "test" of the motel's emergency alarms.
•At a Comfort Suites in Daphne, Ala., a caller ordered a guest to turn on the sprinklers for a fire that wasn't. The result: more than $10,000 in damage.
•In Nebraska, a Hampton Inn employee was convinced by a caller to pull the fire alarm, later telling him the only way to silence the alarm was by breaking the lobby windows. The employee enlisted the help of a nearby trucker, who drove his rig through the front door.
The Nebraska incident appears to be memorialized by PrankNET. According to its Twitter bio, PrankNET is "pranksters in a chat room, doing the most epic pranks you have ever heard in your life."
The truck driver made his impromptu drive in the wee hours of May 27, according to reports.
On May 27 at 12:05 a.m., PrankNET sent a note on social-networking site Twitter: "I just pulled off the most epic prank. I had a hotel guest back his truck into the hotel front window, and break the window."
'Make a negative air flow'
Videos posted on PrankNET's site recorded an incident nearly identical to the one pulled on the Kantorskis.
"We cannot even access the upper levels until you break out the window to make a negative air flow. ... We're going to have to ask you to break the window. Don't worry; we're moving you into a different room," a male prankster tells the obedient hotel guests.
Monday's incident was the first of its kind in Orlando, police and sheriff's offices in Orange and Osceola counties said. The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau said it did not know of any pranks being played on local hotels.
Tourism officials are concerned, however. Orlando has more than 470 hotel properties and 114,000 rooms, not including time shares, according to the bureau.
Pranksters call back, laughing
Mark Kantorski did $5,000 in damage to the Hilton Garden Inn, according to an incident report, but the hotel has not asked the couple to replace anything, he said.
"The whole thing happened in less than 10 minutes," said Mark, who flew out of OIA with Lisa and three kids that day for a family reunion in Vermont.
He said he didn't understand what was going on when Lisa answered the phone before 7 a.m. and heard a man tell her several hotel guests had complained of feeling dizzy.
"I just held on to my kids," she said. "I was about five minutes away from jumping out of that window."
When Patel arrived for an explanation, the prankster called back. Patel told police he could hear several people laughing on the other end of the phone.
"The manager seemed kind of aware of it," Mark said. "He was shocked when he looked at the room but not surprised at all by the situation."
Sara K. Clarke of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press also was used. Rebecca Beitsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-540-3548. Amy L. Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5735.
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