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Tourist falls from St. Pete Beach hotel balcony  Mar 19, 2009

ST. PETE BEACH — He wanted to show a woman afraid of heights that it was safe to lean over a sixth-floor hotel balcony.

Instead, David Senior, 26, of Joliet, Ill., fell four stories onto a second-floor concrete ledge Tuesday night.

David survived and was flown to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was in fair condition Wednesday, a hospital spokeswoman said. The family asked that no other information be released.

The incident happened around 11:15 p.m. at the Grand Plaza Beachfront Hotel. According to St. Pete Beach Fire Department operations commander Tom Malone, he is a fortunate man.

"Fall four floors and land on concrete, and live?" he pondered. "Yeah."

Senior was not a registered guest and "not a spring breaker," said James Kotsopoulos, president of Grand Plaza Resorts Inc., but had met the occupants of the room — an unidentified man and his nephew — earlier Tuesday and was visiting with a group of women.

"From the conversation we had with people in the room, (Senior) wanted to impress the young ladies," Kotsopoulos said. "One was concerned about the height, so to sort of tease her he leaned back onto the rail and went over."

St. Pete Beach Police Deputy Chief Dean Horianopoulos said that scenario was "certainly possible." He collected two differing accounts of what happened from people in room 612. One had Senior sitting on the rail, facing toward the room and falling backwards. The other had him holding onto the rail from the opposite side, falling back and anding outside Room 214. Senior could not be reached for comment.

"This guy is the luckiest guy in the world. There is no doubt about it," Horianopoulos said. "He's very fortunate he was not killed in this."

Horianopoulos said it appeared alcohol "played a factor," but no tests were done to determine Senior's sobriety.

"It's not a crime. It's an accident," Horianopoulos said. "If it was a crime, we would have more answers about more things. If it was a DUI and he was the driver, we would then do a test."

Police confirmed the integrity of the balcony rail.

Hotel guest Lori Hawkins was in a nearby room on the fourth floor and said he heard someone yell "Don't do it, don't do it."

"I heard this big clump. I didn't think it was something bad, then I looked out the corner of my hotel," she said. "I'm on the fourth floor and I saw this guy laying there and he started moving. He fell off from the sixth floor — that's kind of scary."

Hotel staff quickly got onto to the ledge — 36 feet below the balcony — through a guest room to keep Senior from falling again, Kotsopoulos said. Vasalakis was summoned to the hotel and said the man was speaking to rescuers. He was also trying to crawl.

Kotsopoulos said the company has never had a similar incident in 30 years. There were no complaints about activity in the sixth-floor room before the fall, he said.

The Grand Plaza does not resemble the backdrop for spring break tomfoolery. Older guests strolled onto the beach Wednesday morning as clouds gave way to sun, maintenance workers cleaned the sun deck and families dined with small children in the beachside patio restaurant on which the man landed.

Guests described the hotel as "conservative" and intolerant of rowdyism. Such an incident is a nightmare to hotel operators trying to maintain such an image.

"It was a nightmare when we thought someone had sustained serious injuries," said Kotsopoulos.

It was the second time in two days that someone showing off fell from a Florida hotel balcony and survived.

On Monday, Ross Skarda of Arlington, Texas, was found by Panama City police in sand dunes and sea oats next to his beachside condominium. A police spokesman said Skarda was clowning for friends and went over the edge when the chair he was standing on slipped from under him.

Tourist falls from St. Pete Beach hotel balcony
Grand Plaza Beachfront Hotel in St. Pete Beach / Photograph by Cherie Diez/Times

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