|By Kurt Knapek, The Sun News, Myrtle
Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Apr. 8, 2008 - A Largo, Fla., woman died Monday morning after falling from a 16th-floor hotel balcony to a roof covering a pool.
Bonnie Hoff, 54, died Monday at the Sands Ocean Club Resort, said Horry County Coroner Robert Edge. She was found by a hotel guest, who alerted hotel security, authorities said. The investigation into what caused her fall continued late Monday.
An autopsy is scheduled for today, Edge said.
With an influx of tourists expected in the coming weeks, authorities realize the likelihood of falls will increase.
In 2007, six people died from hotel-balcony falls in Horry County, Edge said. Two were ruled accidental, the other four suicides. In 2006, two people died from balcony falls and both were considered accidents, he said.
"On average, half of them are real accidents where people are intoxicated and clowning around on the balcony and lean over and lose their balance," said Edge, coroner for the last 20 years. "The other half are intentional situations."
"Everyone in the business is worried about them all of the time," said Lee J. Rawcliffe, chairman of Sands Resorts, which owns the hotel and five other area properties.
"A balcony is an obvious hazard," Rawcliffe said. "It's sort of like a cliff. You look and it's 100 feet down. You should know not to jump off of there."
The coroners in Georgetown County and Brunswick County, N.C., couldn't say how often people fall off balconies during the year. And neither could remember the last person who died in their county as a result of a fall.
Regulations state that balcony railings must be 42 inches high and have no more than four inches of space between the rails, Rawcliffe said.
He said balcony doors must have locks for child safety purposes.
But there are no warning signs on the balconies," he said.
"Some parents don't keep an eye on children, and some youngsters don't pay attention," Rawcliffe said.
The majority of the people who fall from balconies in Myrtle Beach are "careless," according to Capt. David Knipes of the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
"For years and years, they're jumping from the hotel room into the pool or into another room below," Knipes said.
"It's been a lot of kids involved in horseplay."
That was the case when a girl died in July 2006 at the Sands Ocean Club Resort.
In that case, an Ohio girl fell from the seventh floor to the balcony of a vacant room below, according to the Horry County coroner's office.
The girl, 19, and others were drinking in the room.
A gymnast, the girl grabbed on to the railing of the balcony and propped her feet up on the ceiling above, but lost her balance and fell, Rawcliffe said.
"Something went wrong," Rawcliffe said. "She fell to the balcony below, hit her head and lost her life."
In August 2007, a 17-year-old from Gainesville, Ga. fell over the railing of a sixth-floor balcony at the Tropical Winds on Ocean Boulevard, bounced off other balconies, slammed onto a slanted rooftop and fell into the bushes.
He suffered only cuts and bruises.
Horry County police are still investigating Monday's death, according to Sgt. Bob Carr.
It is often difficult to tell the manner of death when a person falls from a balcony, Knipes said.
"If they don't leave a note, it's hard to say what the intent was when the person went over the railing," Knipes said.
ONLINE First reported at MyrtleBeach Online.com at 8:28 a.m. Monday.
Contact KURT KNAPEK at 626-0258.
To see more of The Sun News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.MyrtleBeachOnline.com.
Copyright (c) 2008, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
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