The family of Kenneka Jenkins, who was found dead in a freezer in a hotel in northwest suburban Rosemont last year, has filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Jenkins’ mother, Tereasa Martin, alleges that the Crowne Plaza hotel staff, its security staff and a restaurant at the hotel are responsible for her daughter’s death.
Jenkins, 19, was pronounced dead on Sept. 10, 2017, a day after she went missing from a hotel room party at the hotel, according to Rosemont police.
She was found in a double walk-in freezer in an unused kitchen in the hotel. Her death was ruled an accident caused by hypothermia, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Her funeral last year drew crowds of more than one thousand mourners and spurred dozens of conspiracy theories on social media.
On Sept. 9, she arrived at the hotel at 5400 N. River Rd. about 1:13 a.m. in a “completely coherent” state and went to a party in a room on the ninth floor, the lawsuit said.
About 2:30 a.m., she and friends were leaving the party when Jenkins realized she had left her phone in the room. Her friends went back to find it, and when they returned, she was gone.
About 4 a.m., friends alerted Martin that they had not seen her since they first left the room. Martin contacted the hotel and was assured that they would review the surveillance footage, the lawsuit said.
When she did not hear from the hotel, Martin contacted police. Jenkins was reported missing at 12:36 p.m. on Sept. 9, the lawsuit said.
When police came to the hotel to investigate, the surveillance footage was reviewed for the first time. Hotel or security staff had not watched the recordings, the lawsuit said.
The suit alleges that the hotel failed to properly monitor the security cameras, “which would have saved her life.”
In the videos, Jenkins can be seen stumbling through the hotel, entering an “abandoned” kitchen, and rounding a corner toward a walk-in freezer at 3:32 a.m., the lawsuit said.
The freezer was located in an unused kitchen at the hotel that was accessible to the general public, the lawsuit said.
The sticker on the door of the freezer, which once contained instructions on how to release the lock system on the door, was completely faded, according to the lawsuit.
Jenkins was found about 21 hours after she headed toward the freezer — hotel staff and management searching the hotel found her at 12:24 a.m. on Sept. 10, police said.
The lawsuit alleges that the hotel failed to secure a dangerous area or have competent staff, with counts of negligence and premises liability against the hotel, F&F Realty, Capital Security and Investigations and Murray Bros. Caddyshack, a restaurant that leased the kitchen at the hotel.
According to the lawsuit, the hotel and security staff ignored multiple notifications that there were dozens of people in the hotel room where Jenkins was, which had a four person occupancy; that a smoke detector in the room had been disabled; and that there was a strong odor of an “intoxicant” coming from the room.
The lawsuit also alleged that Jenkins passed several hotel personnel who should have prevented her from entering the kitchen and wandering through the hotel when she “was visibly disoriented and in dire need of assistance.”
Staff also neglected to review security footage when they were first alerted that Jenkins had disappeared — if they had reviewed the footage “they would have been able to locate her which would have prevented her death,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said that she was “seriously, painfully, and permanently hurt and injured as her body shut down and she froze to death” due to this negligence.
Additionally, Jenkins and her estate suffered damages including “conscious, physical pain and suffering” and death, severe emotional injuries, mortification and humiliation, loss of wages, funeral expense and several other damages, the lawsuit said.