NEW PORT RICHEY — Early Christmas morning inside his hotel room, Leon Dermer used the coffeemaker to make some tea. It tasted strange.
He thought it might have been the tap water, so he said he bought a bottle of water from the Ramada Inn Bayside's vending machine. As Dermer, 70, poured it into his room's coffeemaker, he looked inside the water reservoir.
What he saw horrified him.
"What the f--- is going on?" he screamed.
He said there were several syringes, a spoon and a medicine bottle hidden in the machine. He called housekeeping.
"She said, 'Don't worry, I'll get you a new one,' " Dermer said. He responded with expletives.
Latoya Jones, 24, has worked for two years at the front desk of the Ramada at 5015 U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. She said she was on duty that day.
"We were definitely shocked," Jones said.
Dermer and his wife, Jenifer, were in Room 122, which usually goes for about $80 a night, Jones said. She and other staffers tried to calm Dermer and see how they could help him, but she said he wouldn't stop shouting.
"It was bad," she said.
Jones said she got a quick glance at the coffeemaker, seeing the needles and paraphernalia, before Dermer ordered her and other staffers out of the room.
"I would have been mad, too," Jones said, "but you don't have to act ridiculous the way he did."
Jones said Friday the housekeeping supervisor was fired.
"Obviously she wasn't doing her job," she said.
Dermer is a self-employed businessman. He owns a bronze statue and fountain shop near his home in Tavernier in the Florida Keys. His wife's relatives live in New Port Richey, so the Dermers drove there for Christmas. He said they picked the Ramada because it was on the water and arrived on Monday, Christmas Eve. They spent the evening with relatives and had a nice time, he said.
After finding the needles Tuesday morning, Dermer called the New Port Richey Police Department. He said an officer responded and took the items, but said it was not a criminal matter. Police Chief James Steffens said Friday he had not heard about the case, but would look into it. He said the incident sounds "unfortunate."
After dealing with police and leaving the hotel, Dermer said he went to the hospital to get checked. He said the doctor told him he could have been infected with HIV or Hepatitis A, B or C. He said he was told he wouldn't know if he was infected or not for at least six months.
He said he was told to not have physical contact with anyone — not even Jenifer, his wife of 26 years.
He said he spent the rest of their Christmas vacation holed up away from relatives. He and Jenifer got home to the Keys on Thursday. He said Friday morning he went to unload the dishwasher as he normally does. His wife stopped him and said she'd rather he not do that, fearing he could contaminate the dishes. Dermer said he tried to work Friday but only could stay a few hours.
"My nerves are completely shot," he said.
He said he already suffers from many ailments, heart problems, psoriasis, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and irritable bowel syndrome. He said he feels he's already medically fragile and believes that he's likely caught something from the toxic tea he said he drank.
"I would say my life is in jeopardy," he said.
Dermer wants to warn anyone staying at a hotel to thoroughly check everything before using it. He wonders if someone else used the machine before he did.
"I can understand a dirty room," he said. "But I can't understand this."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.