Turlock police affirm safety of Donnelly Park after incidents

mrowland@modbee.comJuly 31, 2013 

    alternate textMarijke Rowland
    Title: Arts & Entertainment Writer
    Coverage areas: Fine arts, pop culture and other entertainment throughout the Central Valley and foothills.
    Bio: Marijke Rowland has been a reporter at The Bee for 15 years. She grew up in the Midwest and has a degree in journalism from Indiana University. She has covered several beats at The Bee from education to entertainment to employment.
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    E-mail: mrowland@modbee.com

— The city's premier park has taken a public relations hit after a pair of high-profile crimes in the past month. But Turlock officials and many residents remain confident in the 40-acre park's safety and its continued place as a community gathering spot.

Monday, authorities said, a dispute between a recently separated couple led to an attempted homicide in the park. Turlock police said Dan Rigney, 52, was arrested after he cut his former girlfriend's neck with a knife. The pair had agreed to exchange each other's belongings at the park in the early evening, police said. The victim was hospitalized with serious injuries but was expected to recover.

On July 5, police said an attempted rape occurred in the park when a 43-year-old woman running in the early morning was grabbed from behind. Police said her attacker carried her to a secluded area of the park, got on top of her and attempted to kiss her. The woman was able to fight him off and get away.

Based on the victim's descriptions, officers arrested a 17-year-old after an hour-plus search of the area. He was charged with kidnapping and kidnapping with the intent to commit rape and taken to Juvenile Hall.

In late June, the restrooms in Donnelly Park fell victim to vandalism by taggers. The public bathrooms were hit on multiple days with graffiti, and city officials put out an appeal to help find and stop the vandals.

Turlock police Sgt. Stephen Webb said that despite the incidents, Turlock's biggest park remains a safe place, and police have not stepped up surveillance of the area.

"We have no additional concerns," he said "These were isolated incidents. We have officers patrol the park on a regular basis. It's a fun, family-environment park open to the community, as it has been for many years."

Last year, the biggest complaint about the park was the stench caused by low water, an algae bloom, dead fish and goose poop. The city solved those problems by pumping an extra 3 to 4 million gallons of water into the pond in late September.

Wednesday afternoon, families, couples and friends gathered at the sprawling park to feed the ever-present geese, play games and relax in its many shady areas.

"I've never had any problems at the park," said Turlock resident Sophia Garcia, who came with her children to enjoy the large playground area. "It's really nice here. There's a lot of families and people here during the day. But I wouldn't want to be here when the sun goes down."

Donnelly, like all city parks, closes at 10 p.m. Garcia said she comes with her family about twice a month to play and feed the animals. Donnelly opened in 1974 and has more than 30 picnic sites, two restroom facilities, two playgrounds and one basketball court.

From July 2012 to July 2013, more than 13,000 people used its rental facilities, said Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Division Manager Allison Van Guilder. During that period, 133 crimes were reported in the park.

In July, the Turlock Parks, Recreation and Community Programs Commission approved a recommendation to move the city's skate park to Donnelly. The city is selling the old property to the Turlock Irrigation District. More than a dozen community members came out to voice their thoughts on the relocation. While most were supportive, safety and transportation issues were raised about the new site.

The plans must next be approved by the Turlock City Council, which is expected to happen this month.

"It is evident the venue is generally very safe," Van Guilder said. "We believe the skate park relocation will result in a positive outcome for Donnelly Park, and while the timing of these recent incidents may be a cause for concern, the project will continue to move forward."

People at the park Wednesday said they weren't worried about the recent incidents and plan to keep visiting. Turlock resident Modesta Ayala came with her daughter and family friends to have a picnic and feed the birds.

"It's a very good park," she said. "It's safe."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.

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