(Editor's note: Web site pranknet.org and the content therein contains a great deal of vulgar and obscene language and material.)
Management at a Conway hotel is claiming $50,000 in damages was caused early Saturday morning by a prank caller who may be responsible for similar attempts at phone-it-in vandalism throughout the state and nation.
At about 6:35 a.m. Saturday, police responded to an alarm at the hotel to find 100 to 150 guests standing in the parking lot and numerous broken windows in the lobby area, which was flooded with water.
According to a Conway Police Department incident report, an employee claims to have answered the front-desk phone at about 6 a.m., initiating a bizarre and convoluted conversation with a man claiming be a representative from SimplexGrinnel, installer of the hotel's fire sprinklers.
The bogus caller told the employee that there was a problem with the sprinklers and that she needed to "reset" them by pulling a nearby fire alarm, which the caller claimed to have deactivated for the purpose. When the audible alarm went off, the report reads, the caller told the employee to push the activation lever back to its original position, which he said would deactivate the alarm. It didn't, and the employee seems to have panicked. It was likely the reaction the prank caller had been counting on.
The woman was told by the caller that the sprinkler system would soon activate throughout the hotel unless she started breaking the hotel's windows, which he said contained sensors that were connected to the alarm system. Believing the man and his claim that the entire hotel was about to flood, she started smashing windows in the lobby area.
It was at this point that a guest who was walking back inside from his vehicle got caught up in the caller's scheme.
The guest, a Missouri man, said he heard the alarm sounding while he was getting ready to take a shower.
"The alarm goes off, so I went and got all my stuff and put it in the truck and came around the front entrance, and a fire extinguisher comes crashing through one of the windows in the front of the building," the guest said Monday. "I was like, 'what in the world is going on,' and I looked inside, and that's where the ladies were freaking out."
The employees told him that there was a representative from the alarm company on the phone and the guest picked it up, said he had once been trained in emergency response as a former volunteer fireman and asked what needed to be done to help.
"It was very methodical," the guest said. "He was telling me exactly what I needed to do and the whole nine yards."
The guest was told that he had to help them break out the windows, and so he did.
"I broke out the front windows out of the doors, and one of the other girls broke out the windows on the side and front glass," he said.
While the guest and another employee were breaking out windows, the caller told the employee who had first taken the call that if she wanted to keep the hotel from flooding, she'd have to break the glass vial in a sprinkler head, which is intended to break when exposed to heat, thereby triggering the sprinkler.
The employee did as she was told, causing water to pour from the sprinkler and flood the lobby area.
"After breaking several windows and realizing that the alarm was not deactivated, (the guest) got back on the lobby phone with the caller," the CPD incident report reads. "The caller told (the guest) that he must reset the control panel for the system. (The guest) told the caller that water from the sprinkler was keeping him from reaching the panel. The caller then told (the guest) that he had to find the breaker box and shut down the power to the hotel. At this point (the guest) gave the caller his cell phone number in order to stay in contact while mobile."
Guided by an employee, the guest was able to locate the hotel's electrical control panel and shut off the power. By the time the Conway Fire Department and police arrived and determined there was no real emergency, the caller had also contacted the manager of a nearby hotel and connected this manager, who was unaware of the situation with the guest, presumably to enjoy the dialogue between them.
"The girls were pretty freaked out, and there were about 3 or 4 inches of water standing in the floor, and this guy's giving me instructions over the phone, and I'm trying to figure out what in the world is this guy talking about," the guest said. "I feel duped. As far as I'm concerned it's domestic terrorism.
"I'm not embarrassed about it," he said. "I was just doing what I thought was the right thing."
The prank bears several similarities to one perpetrated by those associated with a Canada-based Web site pranknet.org and posted on the site under the title "Violated over the Phone" in which the caller, who refers to his prank-call persona as "dex," tells a man that he is calling from SimplexGrinnel and walks him through a process similar to the one described in the CPD incident report.
The guest, upon hearing the pranknet.org call Monday, said the voice of "dex" is remarkably similar to the voice that was giving him bogus instructions Saturday morning, as are the instructions.
"I'm listening to what he's doing with this guy," the guest said while listening to the pranknet.org call. "He's using the same words. He's talking about a manual override, and that's what he was saying to me ... now he's telling the guy to break the glass out of the little sprinkler head and that's what he said to me."
The CPD incident report notes that a similar call was received by a Little Rock hotel over the weekend. Also, an e-mail was circulating among hotel management advising that several hotels across the nation were receiving calls in which a person "insisted the employees break the sprinkler to release the pressure to avoid tremendous damage."
"Acting under the immense pressure that the caller built, a couple of the hotels followed the direction and suffered quite substantial damage in rooms and corridors," the e-mail reads.
Prosecuting Attorney Marcus Vaden said Monday that his office is looking into the local incident, which Vaden said seems to represent felony criminal mischief "at the least."
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)