Expedia - Crestwood Suites in south Fort Myers, Florida

Hotel denies room to young Army private

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By Laura Ruane, News-Press.com

Army Pvt. 2nd Class, Mason Ritums (Photo: Photo Special to The News-Press)

Army Pvt. 2nd Class, Mason Ritums (Photo: Photo Special to The News-Press)

He craved some private time and space while on leave, visiting family in Southwest Florida over the holidays.

But after booking lodgings online, 20-year-old Army Pvt. 2nd Class Mason Ritums got startling news with his reservation confirmation: The hotel does not rent rooms to people under 21.

No exceptions.

Ritums’ stepmother, Evonn Peterson of Cape Coral, said she got the same answer when calling Crestwood Suites in south Fort Myers and its owner-operator, InTown Suites of Atlanta.

“I am so outraged,” Peterson said. “If our children can fight for this country then they should be able to get a hotel room.”

It turns out that state law happens to agree.

Florida Statute 509.095 waives any minimum age policy for people presenting valid military ID cards and who are on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard, Reserve Forces or Coast Guard.

The law took effect July 1, 2015, according to the state library and archives.

Kathleen Keenan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Business & Professional Regulation, forwarded to The News-Press a bulletin issued in conjunction with the legislative change, and which would have been handed out during hotel inspections.

It also is available on the Division of Hotels and Restaurants’ website.

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Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch, is founder of Operation Open Arms, a Florida- and Maryland-based nonprofit that has provided a variety of services over 12 years to active duty military folks assigned to overseas posts or in combat zones.

Bunch estimated he’d arranged for free or reduced-price lodgings “hundreds of times” for servicemen and women.

“No one’s pulled the under-age 21 restriction on us,” Bunch said.

The News-Press also reached Collier Daily, InTown Suites vice president of sales and marketing, to tell him about the Florida statute.

“I am not aware of that law,” Daily said.

However, had he personally known of Ritums’ situation, Daily said he’d have waived the age policy anyway.

“With an active-duty military person so close to that age, we certainly will check him in.”

Daily said he’d immediately reach out to Ritums through his stepmother, to let him know.

However, she’s dismayed that a hotel chain operating in 189 properties in 22 states didn’t stay current on laws applying to its industry, and wasn’t more sensitive to the needs of military personnel.

“He’s not going to check in there,” Peterson said of her stepson. “We’ll figure out something else.”

After The News-Press sent an online link to the statute,  hotel executive Daily said the company shared it with all of its Florida locations.

Daily also said in a follow-up email that he had “a very good conversation” with Peterson.

He added: “It’s up to Mason if he wants to check in, but we’re ready for him!”

By Laura Ruane, News-Press.com

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