Inn trouble: Punks taking advantage of Bucks motel

Posted: April 17, 2014

TIM FROM Germantown likes taking his girlfriends to the Neshaminy Inn.

"It's not like places in North Philly, where you have to keep your hands in your pockets and look like you're pissed off so people don't mess with you," he said while sipping Crown Royal in Bottlecaps, the motel's lobby bar.

"No one bothers you here."

Another big selling point for him? The Jacuzzis in the luxury rooms, which guests can reserve for a scant $66 per night during the week.

He polished off his whiskey on a recent Friday night and left, the bar mostly empty, save for a few men playing touch-screen games.

The bartender said it's a slow time of year - business will pick up in a few weeks when the weather gets nicer.

She said the people who sit down on her stools are nice, nothing outrageous or bizarre. But what happens in the rooms above Bottlecaps is a different story.

"I can't speculate; I don't know what they're doing," she said. "But I'll tell you one thing: They're not in there with their prayer books."

The Neshaminy Inn, on Route 1 in Trevose just beyond the city limit, is a family-run business built to cater to Bucks County's blue-collar visitors. But in recent years, people have taken advantage of its convenient location. To hear local law enforcement and those who know the motel best tell it, unsavory characters from Philadelphia and beyond have sought it out as a place to hide or engage in illicit activities.

Location is key

Case in point: Sergio Santiago. Santiago, 22, was found by Philadelphia police in the motel April 2. He had been on the lam after allegedly shooting his best friend in the head in Spring Garden a few days before.

He's far from the first fugitive to turn up there, and chances are good that he won't be the last.

"You have to look at the location: It's one of the first exits you hit if you're coming from New York or New Jersey, and that strip of motels is the last you hit before the Turnpike, if you're coming from the other way," Fred Harran, director of public safety for the Bensalem Police Department, said.

"Criminals have a tendency of using that accessibility. I would rather they didn't, but that's beyond my authority."

Data from Bensalem police shows that the Neshaminy Inn sits in a patrol zone that includes several other economy motels, including the Lincoln Motel and a Knights Inn.

Over the past five years in that zone, there have been 188 thefts, 37 fugitive arrests and 388 drug violations, police statistics show.

"These are good businesses being run by good people, and they have been very cooperative with us," Harran said. "The reality is that these are hotels that are offering affordable rates for people who need a roof over their heads, and people are taking advantage of that.

"This happens everywhere: In Section 8 housing, you have good people living there, but there are also bad people doing bad things there, and that's a shame."

Be our guest

The accommodations in the Neshaminy Inn are nothing fancy, but for $86 for a room with a king-size bed on a Friday night, they don't need to be.

A last-minute, walk-up booking put a reporter in a smoking room tucked away on the side of the building, beneath the lobby.

There were no windows set in the concrete walls. The bed and carpet were clean, as was the bathroom, save for a thin red stain splashed across the ceiling.

All that, plus a working TV, fridge and microwave, made for a no-frills overnight stay that was without incident.

But history shows that not every night is so benign in the Neshaminy Inn. Some recent high-profile examples of customers behaving badly include:

* The 2012 case of Thomas Krolikowski and Colleen Gallagher, whose 9-month-old son was pronounced dead in Room 301 after ingesting heroin. Court documents filed in that case show that the couple, admitted drug addicts, had left heroin and other drug paraphernalia within the baby's reach while living in the motel for an extended period.

* A prostitution ring that was busted after Bensalem police found it operating in one of the motel's rooms in 2010. Women arrested in that case told police that Jamil Murray used that room, as well as two rooms at the nearby Knights Inn, to sell crack cocaine and arrange their "dates," according to court documents filed in that case.

* George Manaconus, who was arrested at the inn in 2008 after robbing a bank in Florence, N.J. When officers from Bensalem and Florence apprehended him at the motel, he was in possession of heroin and hypodermic needles, according to court documents.

* The case of Ahmad Bebee, whom Bensalem police found half-naked in one of the motel's rooms with a 16-year-old girl in 2004. A subsequent search of the man's room turned up marijuana, crack cocaine and other drug paraphernalia, court documents show.

"These aren't Neshaminy Inn problems; these are society's problems," said Matthew Etzrodt, the hotel's owner and manager. "This is a microcosm of society, of economy motels in general.

"The same things happen at hotels where you pay $150 a night, but the guys doing it there are wearing suits and selling the stuff by the kilo, instead of in little baggies."

Family values

Etzrodt inherited the business from his father, Michael, who raised the inn in the late '70s as an affordable alternative for truck drivers, day laborers and other blue-collar people looking for a place to hang their hats for a few days.

And, according to Etzrodt, those hardworking people still make up the lion's share of his business.

"We rent to thousands of people a month," he said. "Two percent are bad, but 98 percent are pretty damn good people."

His sister, Maria Etzrodt Gibbons, echoed that message. She should know: She spent four summers working as one of the inn's maids in the early '90s.

"I never felt unsafe when I was working there," she said. "People came and went, and no one ever bothered us or caused any trouble."

She said her father - whom she described as being "obsessed with safety" - would often work the overnight shift, sleeping in an office feet from the lobby.

"Dad was a blue-collar guy who made enough money to do really well, but he loved Bensalem, and he wasn't going to move his business anywhere," she said. "He wanted to serve the community that he loved."

Carol Saunders can attest to that.

For 23 years, Saunders' charity, Aiding Our Neighbors, has provided comfort and support to what she calls the "working poor" - families who live week-to-week in rooms at the Neshaminy Inn and other nearby independent motels.

"Neshaminy has been very supportive with the families, with understanding what their situations are," Saunders said. "Some of their motels up there wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole, but they've been really excellent with making sure they're cared for."

Through collecting donated food and other items for these families, she's gained an understanding of what life is like in Bensalem and the surrounding area. Her conclusion? That the punks raising hell at the motels aren't local folk.

"It's the undesirables coming into the community and trying to take advantage of a nicer area," she said. "I think they see us as country bumpkins. They have a negative impact on our community, because they're forgetting that we're not that stupid."

She said if anything, the area is getting better; she can remember a time when major drug busts were more frequent up and down that stretch of Route 1.

But in the end, she said, community leaders are doing what they can to alleviate those issues.

"The police know what's going on, the owners know what's going on and everyone is working together," she said.

Perhaps the best way to sum up the issues facing the Neshaminy Inn and its competitors in the area is one of the many inspirational quotes found plastered on the wall behind the check-in counter:

"Everything in the dark will come to the light."


On Twitter: @Vellastrations

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