Roddick guides guests to safety from hotel fire

No. 2 player takes charge as 200 evacuated in Rome

Tennis

May 02, 2004|By Karen Crouse | Karen Crouse,PALM BEACH POST

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - What struck Blanche Roddick, at home in Boca Raton, was how calm her son sounded. Early yesterday morning in Rome Andy Roddick was on the balcony of his burning hotel, speaking into his cell phone and describing in a measured clip the chaos around him.

Guests at the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi were trying to escape the flames by jumping onto the wraparound balcony of Roddick's sixth-floor suite. He heard screaming outside his door.

When Blanche, summoning the most soothing voice she could muster, suggested that Andy - in Rome to play in this week's Italian Open - wet some bathroom towels and stick them under his door, he corrected her.

"Mom," he said, "it's way beyond that."

Roddick, the reigning U.S. Open champion and ranked No. 2 in the world, woke up around 5 a.m. to an acrid smell. He swung open his front door to billowy black smoke. People, some hysterical, were in the hallway groping for fresh air.

Roddick, 21, pulled close to a dozen people into his spacious upgraded digs - the hotel management had insisted on opening its Royal Suite to him - and herded them onto the balcony.

Sjeng Schalken, a 6-foot-4 tennis player from the Netherlands, jumped from his room on the seventh floor into Roddick's open arms. Schalken's wife Ricky was another of the half-dozen people Roddick guided to a safe landing on his balcony.

Roddick told his mother there were two dozen of them waiting to be rescued. At one point, Roddick told his mother: "I have my head about me. It's amazing how calm I am."

On the floor directly below Roddick, an American from Georgia had tied bedsheets together to make a rope and try to shimmy down to safety. James Lawery, 58, fell to his death. Bernice and Paul Busque, a Canadian couple in their 60s, died of asphyxiation.

Roddick was still talking with his mother when emergency vehicles arrived. She had laughed at what she heard next.

"Hey," Roddick cried out. "You guys with the ladder. If you come over here, I'll buy you pizza!"

Before they hung up, Blanche Roddick could hear Andy instructing people around him. Her heart swelled with pride when the voice she knows better than her own said, "I'll be the last one down."

Two American tourists were questioned by police about the fire, which started in their room.

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