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Family of a Hotel Manager Shot to Death File Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against
 Marriott International Inc. and Choice Hotels International Inc. -
Claims Hotel Chains Failed to Address Security Issues
By Joe Meyer, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

October 13, 2008- Three children of a hotel manager shot to death last year have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two national hotel chains, claiming security measures were not increased after another clerk was raped at the same hotel days earlier.

Cynthia White, 55, was working alone early Nov. 24 at Comfort Inn on Clark Lane when 22-year-old Dwight Hayes entered the hotel and shot her once in the head. White’s death occurred after another clerk was raped on Nov. 15 when the hotel was called Fairfield Inn.

A Buchanan County jury convicted Hayes in June of White’s slaying, and he also pleaded guilty to the Nov. 15 armed robbery and rape. Hayes, who has been sentenced to a life prison term plus 55 years for the 10 felonies, also is listed as a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit.

According to a petition filed in July in Boone County Circuit Court, the two hotel chains - Marriott International Inc. and Choice Hotels International Inc. - failed to address security issues after the earlier attack, particularly by not installing surveillance cameras, hiring a security guard or changing the locks on the doors.

Marriott is the franchiser of Fairfield Inn and Choice Hotels is the franchiser of Comfort Inn, the court document said.

Kansas City lawyer Stephen Bough represents plaintiffs Ernie, Troy and Brooke White. He said the hotel chains not only had inadequate security measures, "but they knew they had inadequate security."

The lawsuit makes several references to White being raped, although Hayes was not charged with rape in her death and no evidence of a rape was presented during his trial.

"Dwight Hayes ultimately raped and murdered this wonderful woman, Cynthia White," Bough said, "but these hotels had a duty to protect their guests and employees."

Phone messages left with attorneys for Marriot and Choice Hotels were not returned.

"We just got all that paperwork, so we haven’t started doing anything," said hotel owner George Pate of Jefferson City, who is not listed as a defendant.

Pate said the hotel was equipped with a panic button for security. Surveillance cameras were installed shortly after White’s death, but Pate said they might not have prevented her murder.

"Cameras are not a guarantee that nothing would happen," he said. "If somebody wants to do it, they’ll do it anyway."

According to the petition, Cynthia White "spent the last week of her life in fear of being a victim of a violent crime." The other clerk who was attacked earlier had not returned to work, and White was forced to work the overnight shift alone, the petition said.

Columbia hotels were experiencing a "substantial increase in violent crime" in November 2007, according to the petition. The court document mentions an attempted break-in at Hampton Inn on Clark Lane that authorities said Hayes was responsible for and an assault and attempted kidnapping of a woman at Residence Inn off Clark Lane.

Hayes targeted hotels without security measures, the court document said.

"After the first rape, there was more time spent by defendant’s Fairfield Inn by Marriott and Comfort Inn finalizing the change of the franchisor rather than figuring out how to protect the people, including Cynthia White, inside the hotel during the overnight hours," the petition states.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of punitive damages. A hearing scheduled for last week was continued at the request of Choice Hotels, and a trial date has yet to be set, according to court records.

Reach Joe Meyer at (573) 815-1718 or jmeyer@columbiatribune.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.

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