JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has had 826 calls for service since January 1, 2021, to an extended stay motel in the Baymeadows Center area.
According to 91 pages of records, those calls have been related to drugs, gunfire, armed disputes, armed assaults, domestic violence, robberies, carjackings and other incidents.
On Wednesday, police were called to America’s Best Inn on Dix Ellis Trail after a 10-year-old girl was wounded in a shooting. The girl is expected to survive her injuries.
The previous day, motel residents were forced to move out of Building No. 1 after it was deemed structurally unsafe and condemned. A building inspector found there was damage to the second-floor landing between rooms 109 and 200 in Building No. 1, according to a city compliance report. The inspector also discovered that the damages were not exclusive to the second-floor landing, as there were large cracks seen in the concrete flooring that extended across the entire building, the report shows. Combined, according to the report, it was determined that the structural integrity of the building was compromised and that the building was no longer safe for human occupancy. Management for American’s Best Inn told News4JAX that it was moving people living in Building No. 1 to the other two buildings and that the city was giving them assistance to move to another location.
Now people living at America’s Best Inn say that the motel needs new management and that the owners need to step up in securing the property.
“Secure the people that stay here. Yeah, feel secure. I mean, a drive-by shooting can happen anywhere,” said Clifton Dyer, who lives at America’s Best Inn.
But residents also want people to know that it’s not all bad people living at the motel and that crimes can happen anywhere.
“We’re all good people. We’re just out here trying to live,” said resident Michelle Ronkette, who has lived at the motel since February. “There are things that need to be done. But even the people, the managers themselves, are caring people.”
She was at the motel Wednesday evening when the girl was shot. She says this was too close for comfort.
“The managers are trying to get security and stuff around here. You know, it’s just, but the owner is not really caring,” Ronkette said.
Around 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to JSO, investigators determined there was some sort of altercation, saying a man on the top level of the motel was arguing with people in a sedan. Police say the man on the second floor began firing shots at the vehicle, which fled the scene.
During the shooting, the 10-year-old and an 11-year-old girl began running, and that’s when the 10-year-old was struck, according to JSO.
Police added that the 11-year-old was treated for an injury at the scene.
It’s worth noting the shooting did not happen near the motel building that was condemned but near another building at America’s Best Inn.
Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton says he thought the property was making progress and getting problems straightened out.
“This is certainly disappointing in the fact that all of this activity has just cultivated into the tragedies that have taken place recently,” Becton said.
News4JAX found an injunction filed by the city in June 2021, declaring the motel a public nuisance. That was after, according to the city, it filed complaints in February and March.
On Feb. 16, 2021, the motel told JSO they would increase room rates, get more security on weekends and walk the property to check vacant rooms. This was to be completed by March 31, 2021, but it wasn’t, and the calls for service kept coming in.
But Becton says toward the end of 2021, calls for service started going down.
“Now with this new set of events, I’ll be talking with my general counsel about where we go from here,” Becton said. “Unfortunately, we the city just can’t go in there and say, you’re, you know, closed down, you’re not in business.”
Despite the shooting and the records from JSO, Ronkette says there is a community at America’s Best Inn.
“There’s drugs and stuff everywhere, you know, I mean, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t decent people here, you know, trying to just live life and, you know, have the way to save money to find a place and stuff,” Ronkette. “This area is not bad. It’s not bad. I mean, I’ve seen a lot worse areas.”
Ronkette says she doesn’t plan to stay here much longer but hopes management changes for the better.
But Becton says more could be done to fix the problems.
The city says it’s been so thorough in collecting data on the crimes at the motel because, if the motel doesn’t do something to stop allowing the crimes to happen, the city can go to a judge and have the motel held in contempt and then shut down, but it’s a long process.
While News4JAX was at the motel on Thursday, residents said that they received a notice saying the property is closing due to renovations and asking residents to vacate by 3 p.m. Friday.