Stay at Lawrence motel leaves metro softball families itchy and frustrated, leads to bed bug investigation

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Several rooms are temporarily closed to guests at a Lawrence motel, after officials investigated complaints and found bed bugs.

The discovery happened this weekend at the Econo Lodge on West 6th Street. That’s when a group of families traveled from Overland Park to Lawrence for an under-14 softball tournament.

“Unbeknownst to us, it was Parent’s Weekend [at KU], so we had a really hard time finding a place,” said mother Kris Koettker. “[The Econo Lodge] was the only place that was open and we were able to get a block of 7-8 rooms.”

Koettker said about 25 people, including parents and their teenage daughters, checked into the motel and it appeared their rooms were clean.

However, in the middle of the night, Koettker said one girl’s family discovered bed bugs on their pillows and requested a room change. She said the manager promised to notify people staying in adjacent rooms, but never did.

The next day, Koettker said more than a dozen people in their softball league group noticed their bodies were covered in itchy, red bug bites.

“Initially, we felt very itchy,” she said. “But then we were just getting frustrated. We thought, ‘This is crazy! We came here to have a fun weekend with our girls and it turned into this crazy thing!’”

Koettker said they complained to the motel’s manager, but felt like he didn’t really care about their concerns.

“There was never a ‘Sorry,’” she said of her interaction with the manager. “There was never one time that he said, ‘I’m so sorry you had a bad stay. I’m going to do everything I can to rectify this.’ He just immediately went into, ‘There’s nothing I can do right now. I have to call the Department of Agriculture.’”

Koettker said the manager told them that he would not refund anyone’s money – about $130 per room – until inspectors confirmed their suspicions.

“He just didn’t handle it very well,” she said, “and we admittedly were frustrated. I mean, there was at least one person from every room that had some sort of a bug bite on them. There was several on many people.”

Koettker said they didn’t trust the manager to actually contact inspectors, so she and several other parents called the Department of Agriculture to file complaints themselves.

“That was one thing that really bothered us, is that even though we complained about it, they were still going to let people stay in those rooms,” Koettker said. “It was Parent’s Weekend at KU and so they were still letting people go into those rooms.”

“We were saying, ‘Okay, we have bites. You really need to check this out,’ and they were still going to let people stay there.”

After filing complaints, it prompted inspectors to make a surprise visit Tuesday, in which they confirmed bed bugs living in at least two of the rooms.

“I feel like it was not a surprise at all that there were bed bugs in these rooms,” Koettker said. “So to just let people stay there, it just really bothers me.”

The motel’s manager declined an interview with FOX 4 Tuesday, but confirmed he has shut down those two rooms to guests until a pest control specialist can come by to treat them later this week.

After the treatment, the Department of Agriculture will send inspectors back out to ensure the rooms are safe for guests again.

The manager also said he plans to refund the guests who stayed in those two rooms. However, he does not plan to refund Koettker or any of the others in their group who stayed in rooms where inspectors couldn’t find evidence of bed bugs.

“I know that they can’t prove that we were in those rooms [where bed bugs were found],” Koettker said. “And I understand that he has a business, but at the same time, we have evidence that everybody has bites and I do feel like we should be refunded… And an apology would be kind of nice, too.”