A string of sexual assaults in Ashland has locals concerned and police scrambling to make an arrest in the cases.

By Hannah Guzik

A string of sexual assaults in Ashland has locals concerned and police scrambling to make an arrest in the cases.

Two women were sexually assaulted by strangers in the past five days, according to police. In mid December, another woman reported being sexually assaulted while walking behind the plaza at night, but police don't believe that case is related to the two recent ones, Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said.

Officers are unsure if the sexual assaults that occurred on Friday and Tuesday are linked, in part because the victim in the earlier case does not remember what occurred during her suspected abduction and assault, Holderness said.

"The fact that they happened a few days apart certainly is suspicious," he said. "We're certainly looking for links."

"We're extremely concerned that we've had two incidences in such a short time."

As news of the most recent assault — a broad-daylight attack near downtown — spread, locals grew worried.

"I know that these things happen, but they're just not supposed to happen here," said Robin Burton, who lives near where Tuesday's attack occurred. "I really hope they catch the person."

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.

Police described the 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.

The December assault occurred as a woman was walking on a trail near Ashland Creek and Calle Guanajuato, and involved a man that the victim knew, Holderness said.

Police have yet to make an arrest in any of the cases.

"We're putting every resource we have in this department into solving these cases," Holderness said.

Detectives have received several leads in the past few days and are following up on each of them, he said.

Throughout Ashland, residents said they were taking extra precautions because of the assaults.

A group calling itself The Women of Ashland began an e-mail and flyer campaign Thursday to spread awareness about the assaults and encourage women to take safety precautions.

Burton and a friend instituted a buddy system Wednesday and bought the last two cans of pepper spray at Ace Hardware on A Street Thursday morning, she said.

"On a scale of one to 10, my concern level is probably a nine," Burton said.

Cathy Trower, a manager at Ace Hardware, said she is ordering more pepper spray, which should be available Monday.

"It something that wasn't really a big seller for us," she said. "I'm definitely going to increase our inventory — anything that we can do to help the people here."

Southern Oregon University campus safety officials sent a "safety alert" e-mail to all students Thursday morning with safety recommendations.

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

"Hopefully this e-mail that we sent out will heighten that awareness that you just can't walk around without being aware of your surroundings," said Steve Ross, co-director of campus public safety at SOU.

At Ashland Fire & Rescue Station No. 1, located just feet from where the Tuesday's attack occurred, officials are considering installing a security camera at the top of the fire building to monitor activity in the alley, Fire Chief John Karns said.

"I was surprised and shocked that it occurred there, during the middle of the day," he said.

Despite the fire station's proximity to the alley where the attack occurred, no one at the station saw or heard anything unusual Tuesday afternoon, Karns said. A fence covered in vegetation obscures the view of the alley from the fire station.

Because of the attack, firefighters are now walking women employees out to their cars in the parking lot, Karns said.

"We're escorting to them to their cars for safe measure," he said.

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.