Police fielding leads in sex assault cases

Police have yet to make an arrest in a string of sexual assault cases that have alarmed Ashland residents this month, the police chief said Monday.

"We're still following up on leads as they come in," Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said. "We start with what's most promising and work our way down."

Police have received no reports of sexual assaults in Ashland since Jan. 5, he said.

Detectives have obtained a significant number of leads in a Jan. 5 assault, since releasing a composite drawing of the suspect in that case, Holderness said. The victim in that attack told police she was raped by a stranger in broad daylight in an alley near Ashland Fire Station No. 1.

Police are unsure if that case and a Jan. 1 attack — the two most recent sexual assaults — are linked.

"We haven't seen any evidence one way or the other on that one," Holderness said.

Detectives believe two other recent assaults are unrelated to the others or to each other, because of the suspect descriptions in those cases, he said.

Officers are waiting to receive rape kits and other evidence back from a crime lab, Holderness said.

"We've asked them to prioritize it," he said. "Normally it takes months to get it back, but we hope to have it a lot sooner than that."

In order to keep up with the increased investigative demands, Holderness has assigned a patrol officer to work as a full-time detective, he said.

The chief has also increased patrols downtown, where at least two of the assaults occurred.

The most recent assault occurred at 2 p.m. on Jan. 5 as a woman in her 20s was walking through an alley in the 500 block of Siskiyou Boulevard, near the restaurant Cucina Biazzi, police said. The woman told police the assailant was a white man in his forties, who raped her. There was no weapon involved, police said.

Police described that suspect as 5 feet 8 to 5 feet 9 inches tall and 180 to 190 pounds, with a stocky build. He had sandy blond hair, blue eyes and a two- or three-day beard, according to police. He was wearing blue jeans, white skateboarding shoes and a hooded, PUMA-brand, red sweatshirt.

Another attack occurred on New Year's Day, after a woman in her early 30s left a party in the hills above Siskiyou Boulevard and began walking toward downtown at 2 a.m., officers said. Ten hours later, the woman was found unconscious and hypothermic on Clear Creek Drive, off North Mountain Avenue, a semi-rural area. She was seriously injured in the attack, but has been released from Rogue Valley Medical Center, police said.

On New Year's Day, still another woman told police she had been sexually assaulted just after midnight, police announced Friday. Officers later determined that the woman, who was intoxicated, had likely escaped the sexually assault, according to police.

Police describe the suspect in that case as a dark-skinned — but not black — man with a muscular build and a dark mustache, who is 5 feet 9 to 5 feet 10 inches tall and was wearing a hat.

In mid December, another woman reported being sexually assaulted behind the plaza at night. The assault occurred as the woman was walking on a trail near Ashland Creek and Calle Guanajuato, and involved a man that the victim knew, Holderness said.

Due to the assaults, police are encouraging women to walk in well lit areas, stay on main roads and travel with another person when possible.

Anyone with information on the sexual assaults is asked to contact the Ashland Police Department at 482-5211.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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