|By S. Brady Calhoun, The News Herald,
Panama City, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 14, 2009 - PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- PANAMA CITY BEACH -- As a former security guard stood trial this week on a charges of raping and trying to kill a guest during Spring Break 2008, officials on the Beach said they are doing every- thing they can to make sure the scenario is not repeated.
Any hotel employee is given a certain amount of access to guests in our rooms. For all of our peace of mind, we want to make sure (the guests) are safe," said Lee Ann Leonard, the general manager of By The Sea Resorts. "No one wants to feel like they have to be afraid."
Shawn Wuertley, a former security guard at the Sandpiper Beacon Beach Resort, was on trial Friday for attempted first-degree murder, sexual battery and false imprisonment. Police say Wuertley dragged a spring breaker into a hotel room, raped her, choked her and then threw her over a balcony railing. She fell two stories to an overhang, then onto another overhang two stories lower before landing on an elevated stairwell landing.
Because of the current court case, Sandpiper officials declined to discuss security issues.
"Certainly when an incident happens like what happened at the Sandpiper Beacon, it hurts the entire destination and we certainly wouldn't want that to happen here," Leonard said.
All employees must go through drug screens and background checks before they are hired, she added.
Leonard's three hotels, Beach Break By the Sea, Beachcomber By the Sea and Legacy By the Sea, hire Bay County Sheriff's Office deputies to help with security, she added.
"They undergo extensive background checks themselves," Leonard said.
The resorts also have guests under 25 years old sign contracts stating they will not behave irresponsibly while they are at the hotels, Leonard said. The contract warns guests that they will be evicted if they sell or give away illegal drugs, tamper with fire alarms, harass other guests or employees, drink while underage, fight, or otherwise breach the peace and quiet of others.
"We will evict them," Leonard said. However, the biggest problem she has seen this year is spring breakers throwing things off balconies.
"A full beer bottle off a 12-story balcony, that can kill somebody," Leonard said.
Beach police say that aside from the Wuertley incident, they rarely have had any problems with security guards.
"Obviously, any job, security guards included, you have good and bad apples," said Maj. David Humphreys. "I would like to think that this was a rare, isolated incident based on our experience."
Humphreys pointed out that in most instances a maid and a maintenance employee have as much access as security guards. However, security guards generally have greater authority at the hotel and among the guests, Humphreys said.
'The perception is that while they may not be law enforcement, he is there to help them and help keep them secure," Humphreys said. "There is not as much scrutiny by the public on the actions of a security guard."
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