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Bedbug Infestations Continue to be Source of Irritation for Hoteliers;
Any Hotel Can Be a Victim, From Five Star to No Star

By Shawn Day, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sep. 9, 2009--A woman is suing an Oceanfront motel owner, contending that he knew bedbugs were in the room he leased to her and her infant son this year.

Michelle A. Scott is seeking $100,000 in compensation from Dan Perrella, owner of La Coquille Motel on 16th Street, for the medical treatment of her son. The boy was "significantly and permanently injured" by bedbug bites, "suffered itching, rashes, pock marks, scarring, humiliation and embarrassment and remains injured permanently from the insect infestation," she said in her complaint filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

Perrella, meanwhile, said the woman's son was covered with scabs when they checked in. When he asked whether the child was all right, Scott told him the boy had chickenpox.

After Perrella learned bedbugs were in the room, he said, he moved mother and child to one of his other properties, the Flagship Resort Inn. He suspects they brought the bugs to La Coquille.

The city health department has received two complaints of bedbugs at La Coquille this year.

One -- the subject of this lawsuit -- occurred in February. It was a "complete infestation" confined to a single room, said Erin Sutton, environmental health manager for the city's public health department.

The second complaint involved a few of the pests in another room in May, she said.

Through Labor Day weekend, city officials found bedbugs in 10 Beach hotels this year. Six had just a few bugs in a single room, Sutton said.

"Any hotel can be a victim of bedbugs being brought in, from five stars to no stars," she said. "With travelers being a transient population, they can bring them in."

She described the critters as a nationwide problem for the hotel industry and insisted "a bedbug complaint is not a reflection of the type of hotel it is."

Four hotels, including La Coquille, had more serious problems with the bugs.

The Oceanfront Super 8 and the Cerca del Mar motel had some bugs in multiple rooms, but not on the level of an infestation, Sutton said.

At the Castle Motel on Pacific Avenue, officials found infestations in some rooms and a few bugs in others, Sutton said.

That motel is also owned by Perrella. Two years ago, officials shut it down because of a bedbug infestation.

Perrella said then, and again this year, that he rid the 47-room property of the pests by fumigating and replacing mattresses. The work in 2007, he said, cost close to $40,000, and he estimated he lost an additional $20,000 in revenue.

Last week, he spent $1,400 to have a contractor spray for pests as a precaution before the Labor Day weekend, he said.

He said homeless guests who check in are often the source of the bugs, and he had begun to turn them away. "I don't need any more incidents."

The current lawsuit isn't the first that Perrella has faced over bedbugs.

A guest who stayed at the Castle Motel around the time of its 2007 infestation sued Perrella and eventually received a $10,000 settlement, he said.

Shawn Day, (757) 222-5131, shawn.day@pilotonline.com

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To see more of the The Virginian-Pilot, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.pilotonline.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

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