Recent attacks on women enjoying area trails emphasize the reality that safety is not assured even on popular paths for walking, hiking and biking.
“We should have the right to feel safe,” said Janet Oliva, an FBI-trained profiler who is retired from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. “Sadly, in society today, that’s not the case. “
Earlier this week, a man tried to attack a woman running on Atlanta’s heavily-traveled Freedom Parkway Path, but she was able to fend him off.
A 19-year-old woman reported on Aug. 5 that a man tried to attack her with a Taser while she was riding on Red Top Mountain trail in Bartow County. She got away unhurt.
A week before, Tina Waddell was brutally beaten by a man who pulled her off the Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County. The 42-year-old woman is still recovering from injuries so severe her family didn’t recognize her. The county Sheriff’s Office has a reward fund that now totals $23,300 for information that would lead to the arrest of the attacker.
It is the feelings of isolation and the tranquility of these trails that attract bikers and walkers. But the isolation also attracts would-be predators.
Law enforcement say attacks on the trails are rare and that is why there seems to be so much more attention to them when they happen.
“It’s not right you cannot enjoy nature and feel safe in a place where you’re going to feel rest and relaxation,” Oliva said.
She said it’s no longer just children who are encouraged to use the buddy system, “We’re teaching adults that,” Oliva said. “The reality is people aren’t safe alone.”
GBI Director Vernon Keenan said people are generally more attentive when they are in busier areas.
“When you’re walking in an alley or when you’re in downtown at night your senses are alert,” Keenan said. “For something to happened on a mountain trail, that’s not supposed to be the case.”
The Paulding County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday it has had no credible leads in the investigation of Waddell’s attack There have been no arrests in the Red Top Mountain incident. Nor have Atlanta police found the man who attacked Pearl Ryder late Monday morning.
But some agencies are trying to make people feel safer.
The city of Woodstock is implementing a volunteer trail watch program. According to Preston Pooser, Woodstock’s recreation director, local police and fire fighters already patrol on foot and on bikes the city’s 20 miles of trails and volunteers will supplement that force with “extra eyes and ears.”
Paulding County already has 47 real-time cameras along the trail but it increased patrols after Waddell’s attack on the same path where eight years ago another woman alone was knocked off her bike, raped and killed. Michael Ledford is on Death Row for murdering Jennifer Ewing in 2006.
Lt. Jeff Baxter said there has been a drop in violent crime since the Atlanta Police Department’s Path Force began patrolling the Beltline. In 2012 there were nine incidents on the Beltline, but so far this year there has been only one, a physical altercation allegedly started by a runner who thought a biker came too close to him.
One of the surveillance cameras trained on the Beltline recorded the incident.
“Occurrences like what happened on Monday (to Freedom Parkway Path) are rare,” Baxter said. “Everyone needs to take responsibility for being aware of their surroundings.”
Law enforcement says there are simple steps hikers and bikers can take to be safer on the trail.
• Go with someone else.
• If alone, don’t wear headphones, which hinder awareness of surroundings.
• Make sure your cellphone is charged.
• Make a note of where you enter a trail and any mile markers you pass so you can give a precise location to the 911 operators if youy need to call.