Police increasing patrols due to sex assaults

Police are increasing patrols downtown and working overtime to try to make an arrest in a string of sexual assault cases that have disturbed Ashland this month.

"We're as concerned as everybody else is," said Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness. "We just want to assure everybody that we're doing everything we can."

Detectives continued to follow up on leads in the cases, but had yet to make an arrest as of Friday afternoon, he said.

Two women were sexually assaulted by strangers this month, and police have recently investigated two other sexual assault cases, Sgt. Jim Alderman said in a release Friday.

Police are unsure if the two most recent cases, which occurred Jan. 1 and Tuesday, are linked. Detectives believe two other recent assaults are unrelated to the others or to each other, because of the suspect descriptions in those cases, Holderness said.

Officers are working "a significant amount of overtime" trying to make a break in the cases, he said.

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

"We are having our patrol officers on duty really concentrate in the downtown area for the next little while," he said.

The most recent assault occurred at 2 p.m. Tuesday as a woman in her 20s was walking through an alley in the 500 block of Siskiyou Boulevard, near the restaurant Cucina Biazzi and Ashland Fire & Rescue Station No. 1, police said. The woman told police the assailant, a white man in his forties, 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.

As leads and surveillance footage continued to come into the Ashland Police Department Friday, other neighboring departments offered to send officers to help with the increased investigative demands, Holderness said.

"Thus far we haven't got more than we can process," he said, "but if that should happen, we will ask other agencies."

Detectives have also consulted with experts from outside agencies to get tips on conducting the investigation, Holderness said. They are waiting to receive tests from a crime lab, he said.

Although there are some similarities between the two sexual assaults by strangers, police are treating them as separate cases, he said.

"Right now we don't have anything other than some coincidences, such as the closeness in time and location and some similarities in physical attributes and the age of the victims," he said. "We don't want to predispose anything unless we have evidence."

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.

"Just as a general rule you should always be careful, but sometimes people tend to forget that in Ashland," Holderness said.

"In this time, you should maybe take some extra precautions," he said. "If you're walking around anywhere other than a very public place, you probably want to walk in pairs."

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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