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Illinois man defies odds in surviving 4-story fall from St. Pete Beach hotel balcony

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.

Senior survived and was flown to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was in fair condition Wednesday.

The incident happened about 11:15 p.m. at the Grand Plaza Beach Hotel.

St. Pete Beach Fire Department operations commander Tom Malone said Senior 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 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 backward. The other had him holding onto the rail from the opposite side, falling back and landing outside Room 214.

"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 was a factor in the fall. Police also confirmed the integrity of the balcony rail.

Hotel guest Lori Hawkins was in a nearby room on the fourth floor when she 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 lying there and he started moving."

Hotel staff got onto the ledge — 36 feet below the balcony — through a guest room to keep Senior from falling again, Kotsopoulos said.

Hotel vice president of operations Roxann Vasalakis, who was summoned to the hotel after the fall, said the man was speaking to rescuers and trying to crawl.

Kotsopoulos said the company hasn't had a similar incident in 30 years. There were no complaints about activity in the 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 rowdiness.

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

On Monday, a Texas man fell six stories from a beachside condo balcony in Panama City as he was clowning around for friends and was injured. Police said a chair he was standing on slipped from under him and he went over.

Illinois man defies odds in surviving 4-story fall from St. Pete Beach hotel balcony 03/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 12:17pm]
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