Actions Taken To Make Path Safer
Va.'s Four Mile Run Area Is Site of 3 Sexual Assaults
By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 6, 2007; B01
She replaced all the locks in her ground-floor condominium, buying the strongest deadbolts she could find. She put clamps on the windows. Got a dog. No longer walks alone. If anyone comes up behind her, she gets rattled.
And she still has nightmares.
"I'm hyper-vigilant now, bordering on paranoid," said the 42-year-old Arlington County woman. "I don't want to be neurotic, but I'm suspicious of everybody. You see a stranger, you don't know what they're capable of. 'Is that a sexual predator?' I ask myself."
The woman, a government employee, was beaten and sexually assaulted with a stick on a July evening last year as she walked along the county's popular Four Mile Run bike path. Last week, Rubio A. Angel, an 18-year-old illegal immigrant from El Salvador, was given three life sentences plus 20 years for the attack, which the judge called one of the most brutal and vicious he had ever seen.
The assault was the first of three sexual attacks in or near that part of the path in the past 13 months. Nevertheless, Arlington police say that the area is relatively safe and that most of the crimes committed there are nuisance crimes, such as public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and vandalism. From 2000 to 2006, 271 crimes were reported within 100 feet of the trail, but only 30 were crimes against people, police spokesman John Lisle said.
Steve Temmermand, division chief for Arlington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, said the area was far worse a few years ago. He said Barcroft Park -- the park along the path where two of the women were attacked -- used to be one of the county "hot spots."
Among actions taken to make the area safer, a picnic shelter in the woods was removed because people would hang out there and drink, and parking near the stream was shifted elsewhere so people couldn't carry alcohol unseen from their cars into the woods, he said.
Police and park ranger patrols have also been stepped up, and things have gotten better, he said.
Temmermand said that considering that 70 percent of Arlingtonians use the trail system every year -- or about 140,000 people -- three attacks is "well below most public places."
Not that that's much comfort to the three women assaulted.
On Jan. 11, a 27-year-old woman was walking on the South Four Mile Run service road -- across the street from the bike path -- when she was grabbed from behind by a man who threatened her with a knife. He then forced her to walk to a nearby grassy area and sexually assaulted her, police said.
On Feb. 2, a 23-year-old woman was walking on the sidewalk near one of the entrances to the path when she was grabbed and pulled into the bushes by a man with a knife. The woman fought against the attacker, and he fled on foot, police said.
Police believe a man arrested in Fairfax County in June was responsible for both of this year's attacks.
The lush path draws hundreds of joggers, hikers and cyclists there every day -- and sometimes criminals and sexual predators who want to avoid detection.
"It's like the forest primeval down there," said the woman attacked in 2006. "It's beautiful and wooded, an oasis in an urban area."
Her attacker surprised her from behind and dragged her into the nearby woods, assaulting her there. (The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.)
Arlington Police Capt. Michelle Nuneville, commander of the 3rd District, said "visibility can be poor" along the path, especially during the summer when the vegetation is full. She recommended that women not walk in isolated areas on the path by themselves, never walk alone there in the dark and always be aware of their surroundings.
The woman who was attacked last summer went back to the site with police in February when the trees had no leaves and saw that the woods off the path were littered with beer cans and bottles.
"We know there's a propensity for people to hang around down there," Nuneville said. "It's usually men . . . watching the women walk by. We're aware of it, and we don't want it."
Lisle said there were "social issues" in the area. "Our officers know about the issues and look out for them," he said. He said homeless men "sometimes hang out under the bridge near there . . . and we know there might be people hanging out and drinking." Lisle noted, however, that violent crime is at a 40-year low in the county.
"There are a lot of suspicious people hanging around down there," said Tracy Tattrie, who was walking alone along the path one evening last week with her dog, a pit bull-Lab mix. "Homeless people, day laborers. It can be scary. I never go without my dog."
The woman who was assaulted last summer thought nothing of taking a walk along the path after watching the World Cup final with friends.
On the one-year anniversary of her assault, she, her partner, who also has nightmares, and two friends went to the spot in the woods off the trail where the man dragged her face-down. They sat in silence for a moment and gave thanks that she had survived the attack.