Arrest at abandoned hotel has citizens concerned

Arrest at abandoned hotel has citizens concerned
Even with chains, vagrants find entrance to the hotel. (Photo source: WLOX)
Even with chains, vagrants find entrance to the hotel. (Photo source: WLOX)

The arrest of a shooting suspect at an abandoned hotel in St. Martin has citizens up in arms. Many say the fire damaged property endangers the community.

A search for a shooting suspect Monday night led police to the abandoned Howard Johnson hotel on Highway 609 in St. Martin, where they arrested Mark O'Neil for his role in the shooting. Those who live and work in the area say it's just another example of what a danger this building can be to the community.

"I am fearful," said Dr. Lisa Wilkerson. "We are a small clinic. We are a bunch of women here and there are times we are by ourselves. And, you know, that's just one of probably many that's been harboring in there. So that makes us very fearful for spending time here, especially when there is no one else here to supervise."

Those who live in the nearby apartment complex agree that the arrest has sparked even more concern about the charred and dilapidated building.

"I would really like to see it be torn down, and something else positive to be built," said Kelsea Nero.

As we previously reported, the county cannot gain access to the property due to a lengthy arson investigation and lawsuit over insurance. But county leaders say they're not giving up on the fight.

"I really feel a need to take those things one at a time, and try to get some resolution to them working with the board of supervisors and various elected officials to speed that process up, because it's nothing but a place for trouble," said Sheriff Mike Ezell.

Dr. Wilkerson, who owns the vet clinic just feet away, said she cannot wait to see something done with what she calls a major eyesore.

"That's not something you want to look at every single day, and it's hard that you know you're in front of the burned hotel. Yea, I want it gone," said Wilkerson.

Zachary Thomas was also arrested and charged with accessory after the fact for transporting O'Neil from the scene of the shooting. According to Chief Mark Dunston, no date has been set for either suspect's initial court appearance.

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