MODESTO -- Police on Friday were seeking the public's help in their investigation of two sexual assaults that happened three weeks ago on the same day. The attacks came within three hours of each other near the recently opened Virginia Corridor pedestrian bridge over West Briggsmore Avenue in Modesto.
Police believe one man is responsible for both Jan. 18 assaults. The victims were grabbed and fondled. The suspect in the incidents had a matching physical and clothing description.
Then Tuesday, someone called police to report seeing a man following a woman on the Virginia Corridor near Stoddard Avenue. The man's description was similar to the suspect in the Jan. 18 assaults.
The third incident prompted police to issue a news release Friday afternoon about the assaults and warn the public of possible danger.
Lt. Rick Armendariz said the department has been investigating the first two assaults since they happened and has increased patrols and resources in the area.
"Two incidents happened in one day and then we became concerned when it happened again three days ago," he said. "At that point, we realized the individual may be the same person. For that reason, we put the information out."
Armendariz said the department does not have a specific policy on reporting sexual assaults to the public, but the delay did not mean the department wasn't working on the case. "(Reporting) depends on the circumstances of the events. In this particular case, our investigators were working on it diligently," he said. "Honestly, our focus was doing follow-up and control, doing the law enforcement stuff. Just because it wasn't reported (to the public) didn't mean law enforcement wasn't following up."
He said investigators are not sure the incident from this week involved the same man, but wanted to alert the public to raise awareness.
The first incident Jan. 18 happened shortly before 4 p.m. when a woman was running along the corridor. As she approached the bridge, she spotted a male running behind her.
Police said the male caught up to her and wrapped his arms around her. The suspect started fondling the woman, and she repeatedly told him to leave her alone. The woman escaped, and she began yelling for help.
The suspect distanced himself from the woman and walked away. Police described the suspect as black, in his late teens, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a slim build, an Afro hairstyle and long sideburns. He was carrying a backpack and was wearing a large brown sweater, black jeans and headphones.
The second incident occurred about 6:15 p.m. that day on the south end of the pedestrian bridge. Police said the victim was running along the corridor when the suspect grabbed her. He fondled her until she was able to shove him off. He left the area and was last seen heading west on Granger Avenue.
Investigators believe it could be the same man spotted this week, again along the corridor and following women.
About 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, a man described as having an Afro hairstyle and wearing a blue and black striped shirt was spotted following a woman on the Virginia Corridor about a mile south of the attacks last month took place. Officers checked the area but did not find the suspect.
Armendariz said people should be aware of their surroundings when outside for walks or runs, carry a cell phone and go with a partner or friend when possible.
The corridor bridge opened in late June, allowing bicyclists, joggers and people pushing strollers to travel farther along the trail. The bridge lets them move safely above heavily traveled Briggsmore Avenue.
Police ask anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. People can email tips through the Crime Stoppers website, www.stancrimetips.org, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394 and Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284.