DURHAM — A woman was assaulted Wednesday night on the American Tobacco Trail in the eighth incident on the popular greenway since mid-May.
According to police, the woman told officers she was walking on the trail about 6 p.m. when a man passed her, turned around and started walking behind her.
The man followed her for approximately a quarter mile before he jumped on her from behind and knocked her to the ground, she said. The two struggled on the ground until a passing bicyclist scared the suspect away.
Police Chief Jose L. Lopez said the victim declined medical assistance. The attack might have been sexually motivated and is under investigation by the departments special victims unit, he said.
This is an unfortunate incident, he said.
The suspect was described as black, 25 to 35 years old, 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 2 inches tall, with a stocky build. He was wearing all black clothing. Police could not provide additional descriptive details such as estimated weight, complexion or hair style.
The assault occurred near Apex and Fargo streets, on a section of the trail that separates the Southside and Forest Hills neighborhoods.
According to an email Forest Hills Neighborhood Association President Norris Cotton sent Thursday morning to the Forest Hills email list and city officials, about 6:20 p.m. a family walking near a trail access point heard screams and found a young woman who appeared to have been the victim of an assault of some type.
Several other individuals had already come to the womans aid, Cotton wrote.
Anticipating public response, City Manager Tom Bonfield sent City Council members a memo describing measures the city has taken to make the trail safer.
They include increased police patrols and three utility-terrain vehicles bought and put to trail-patrol use. According to police spokeswoman Kammie Michael, officers have conducted approximately 340 directed patrols on the American Tobacco Trail since Aug. 1.
Lopez said officers were in the general vicinity of Wednesdays incident, but the attacker just was waiting to make sure he was in an area where the police were not.
City Councilman Steve Schewel led group runs on that section four Tuesday evenings in a row, as a take back the trail gesture. Wednesdays incident came one day after his final run. Police and other city department are investigating feasibility of installing surveillance cameras on the trail, Lopez said.
Before the latest assault, according to police records, four simple assaults, one sex offense and two robberies had been reported on the trail since May 14, most recently an assault Aug. 21. All occurred on the section from downtown just past Fayetteville Street. Police have made three arrests in connection with the earlier attacks.
Lopez said he did not think the latest attack is related to the others, most of which were reported to have involved groups of youths.
Anyone with information on Wednesdays assault is asked to call police at 919-560-4440, ext. 29318, or Crime Stoppers at 919-683-1200.