Sex Trafficking, Theft, and More: Crime Plagues I-Drive Hotels Steps Away from Universal’s Upcoming Epic Universe Theme Park

In Orlando, no tourist area is poised to get a bigger surge than International Drive where Comcast is constructing a new multi-billion dollar theme park nearby.

Epic Universe concept art

When Universal’s Epic Universe opens by summer 2025, it will likely send a flood of tourists to be the first to check out Orlando’s first brand new theme park in more than 20 years. Many will undoubtedly stay at I-Drive hotels, which have long been an option for tourists looking for cheaper lodging off Disney property. Universal has also expanded into I-Drive by opening a pair of new hotels in 2019 and 2020.

That’s why WDWNT is looking closer at International Drive before the spotlight shines brightly on Epic Universe.

WDWNT requested the arrest reports for 2022 for more than a dozen I-Drive hotels of various price points.

Some of the biggest issues law enforcement is dealing with are thefts, drugs, and people carrying concealed weapons without permits, according to more than 40 arrest reports we reviewed from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orlando Police Department through our public records request.

The area dealt with a rash of overnight catalytic converter thefts last year. A catalytic converter, which thieves tend to steal and then sell at a scrap yard, is part of a car’s exhaust system and filters out bad chemicals.

“There have been numerous victims of catalytic converter thefts within the International Drive corridor in the recent past,” the sheriff’s report said.

During a three week period in early 2022, the sheriff’s office investigated 14 similar thefts that happened between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

dockside-inn-and-suites-sign

It happened one February night at Universal’s Dockside Inn and Suites’ garage to two Mitsubishi cars parked near each other.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office investigated Dockside’s cases and found no fingerprints, but video surveillance showed a black Volkswagen pulling into the garage and a man getting out, crawling under the vehicles.

“The suspects park their vehicle adjacent to the victim’s vehicle. One suspect sits in the driver seat as a lookout and another suspect uses a cutting tool to saw the catalytic converters off victim vehicles. The suspects spend approximately two minutes per victim vehicle before leaving. The suspects have almost exclusively targeted Mitsubishi Outlanders or Outlander Sports,” the sheriff’s report said. “The suspect vehicles that have been identified were all rental vehicles. It appears the suspects often change rental vehicles to remain undetected from law enforcement.”

Authorities tracked the two men to a nearby motel where they found the catalytic converters in a backpack. Two men were arrested for grand theft and criminal mischief, but the state attorney’s office declined to pursue criminal charges.

motel6 i drive

Not far from Dockside is the Motel 6 on 5909 American Way in a prime I-Drive location near restaurants, Fun Spot, and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort.

“It should be noted the parking lot of the Motel 6 has recently had a large amount of illegal drug activity,” according to an Orange County Sheriff’s report from June when police arrested two people for having ecstasy in their car. One of the men, who was a felon, was also arrested for having a 9mm gun.

Earlier in the year, police had been at the same motel because they got a call from a mother who was worried her 24-year-old daughter was kidnapped and held captive.

Law enforcement found the 24-year-old Arizona resident sitting in the back of a car along with two men at the Motel 6. One man had a 9mm pistol tucked inside his waistband while the other man kept a 9mm near where he was sitting, authorities said.

The woman told officials she was being sex trafficked by one of the men whom she called her pimp. She said she didn’t fear for her safety.

The two men were arrested on gun charges.

Other times, the hotels are dealing with people who are homeless and sneaking into rooms and onto the property. It’s happening at a time when rent prices are skyrocketing in Central Florida and there’s little relief to help people find affordable housing.

Sometimes the situations end with tourists being victims of crime.

A tourist from the British Virgin Islands came back to his room and realized his backpack containing $1,500 in cash was missing June 18 at The Point Hotel & Suites, a high-rise hotel near Carrier Drive and Universal Boulevard.

sheraton idrive

The man had an Apple AirTag so he tracked his bag pinging at a nearby hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Orlando International Drive.

He found the discarded backpack in the Sheraton’s pool bathrooms and managed to salvage his passport and his iPad but the money was gone.

With the help of law-enforcement and The Point lobby video surveillance, authorities identified the suspected culprit: “A white male wearing a red, white, and blue Budweiser hat, blue tank top, red shorts and flip flops,” the Orange County Sheriff’s report said.

The same man could be seen on Sheraton footage too.

“The subject rides the elevator to the 21st floor and walks a circle around the floor while attempting to enter the vacant rooms. He then goes back down to the first floor and walks out to the pool area,” the sheriff’s report said. The Sheraton hotel manager who assisted me with the video surveillance… recognized the white male subject as someone who has been trespassing in the vacant hotel rooms they have on the 19th, 20th, and 21st floors.”

In fact, a few days earlier on June 13, the suspect went behind an employee-only counter and swiped a room key then went up to Room 2110 without paying for the $189 a night stay.

Law enforcement figured out the suspect’s name when a Sheraton housekeeper found his wallet in the 21st floor stairwell on June 27.

The man was a fugitive with a criminal record that included a burglary charge in Miami and an arrest warrant out for violating probation, according to Orange County Sheriff’s records.

The man was caught walking through the Sheraton again on July 1, attracting the manager’s attention again. The sheriff’s department was called.

The man told law enforcement “he has been staying in Orlando for the last couple of weeks and has been hopping between various hotels including The Hyatt, Marriott, and Sheraton,” the sheriff’s report said. “Jonathan advised he has been staying in vacant hotel rooms and usually finds them by pushing on random doors until one opens.”

He was arrested for numerous crimes, including grand theft and burglary. Orange Circuit Court records show he was charged with possession of meth after Sheraton complained of his trespassing.

Do the reports of theft, trafficking, and more affect your decision about where to stay when you visit Universal Orlando Resort? Let us know your I-Drive experience.

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