Groping of boy, 9, has Lode town alert

TUOLUMNE CITY -- An unshaven man with big ears and a big nose persuaded a 9-year-old boy to walk with him, then grabbed the boy's crotch repeatedly, the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department reported Wednesday.

Authorities are looking for the man, whom the boy described as in his 40s, 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a slender to average build. The man wore a blue and white baseball cap, red shirt, knee-length blue gym shorts and flip-flop sandals.

The boy was walking home from Summerville Elementary School on Carter Street in Tuolumne City between 4 and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. He was near the intersection of Laurel Avenue and Pine Street when, he told authorities, the man coerced him to walk with him, said Lt. Dan Bressler. They walked west one block to Laurel and Main Street, then the man grabbed the boy, who broke away and ran home.

The Summerville School District has taken action, said Leigh Shampain, district superintendent and Summerville School principal.

"We're taking it quite seri- ously," he added.

Shampain got a fax about the incident early Wednesday from the school district. Summerville's teachers were asked to remind students not to walk off or get into cars with strangers. Youngsters also were advised to walk home in pairs, if possible.

Shampain said he included the man's description in his bulletin to parents, which went home Wednesday.

"Somebody may come up with a suspect," he said. "You never know."

There are 390 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at Summerville. It's one of 12 districts and 23 schools within the Tuolumne County School District, which stretches between Groveland and Pinecrest and has 7,200 students, said county Superintendent Joseph A. Silva.

Stanislaus County schools in Ceres and Modesto began this summer to use automated systems to get important messages to parents quickly. The Ceres Unified School District introduced a system in July that sends e-mail, text messages and voice mail to parents about emergencies. The district used the system Sept. 19 when a student brought an unloaded gun to Central Valley High School and the campus went into lockdown.

Modesto City Schools wasn't far behind. SchoolMessenger, its new emergency notification system, was unveiled in August. The district used it this month to warn parents about a bus stop groping incident.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.