Stray bullet enters St. James Hotel

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 2, 2003

The tinkling of glass and a &uot;ping&uot; sound like a shoot-’em-up video game were the first clues that things weren’t quite right.

You’re not supposed to hear things like that at 2 a.m. …

Methodist minister Stephen McGucken, who’d grown up in the Selma area, had brought Betsey &045;&045; his wife of two months &045;&045; to his birthplace to help him relive some childhood memories the city’s historic streets always conjure up for him.

Now, as the Phenix City couple peacefully slept in Room 202 of the St. James Hotel &045;&045; one of the city’s crown jewels &045;&045; they were awoken by what sounded like gun shots, then breaking glass and a faint, high-pitched whistling sound. Turns out a stray bullet from a shooting incident near the Washington St. Supermarket &045;&045; a block away &045;&045; had winged its way into their room.

As things settled down enough for them to raise off the floor, the couple began probing their room &045;&045; looking down at one point to discover what looked like a bronze quarter &045;&045; &uot;all shiny and pretty,&uot; Stephen recalled.

The bronze quarter was actually a spent bullet smashed along its route to Room 202 and later gathered as evidence by a hotel employee then handed over to the police.

The McGukens, meanwhile, were moved to a suite in the hotel and offered some restitution for their ordeal, Stephen said.

Nevertheless, the incident left a bewildering impression on Betsey, a South Carolina native and first-time Selma visitor.

When asked if she’ll visit Selma again, she shrugged, cocked her head and smiled &045;&045; the doubt obvious in her expression.

The random incident has also shaken up some hotel employees, but none more so than general manager Janet Dawkins.

According to Dawkins, the gunfire is the first major incident to have affected the 150-year-old hotel, reopened in 1997 after extensive restoration. That, in itself, is noteworthy, considering Room 202 was reputed to have been used by nortorious outlaw Jesse James while visiting the area.