SWAT officers lace up to reassure downtown runners scared by attacks


Two dozen Austin police SWAT officers opened their run to the public after attacks left runners skittish.

Austin police have arrested a suspect in one of three recent attacks on runners in or near downtown in Austin.

They came to reassure a public upset and fearful after three seemingly random attacks targeting women running near Lady Bird Lake in the last month by lacing up and joining them.

Roughly two dozen strong in gray shirts emblazoned “Austin Police SWAT,” shorts and training shoes, officers gathered in the predawn hours Thursday to run and walk the hike-and-bike paths that line both sides of Lady Bird Lake.

“This is the heart and soul of Austin. We have such a huge running community,” said officer Rafael Rosales, a 17-year veteran of the force who came up with the idea. “To have people discouraged to come out here… it’s just sad.”

Beneath the roar of cars passing overhead on the MoPac Boulevard bridge, the police were welcomed with open arms. One runner passing by the group fist-bumped an officer, another shouted out, “Thank you, guys,” and others joined them in walking or running the trails.

They organized themselves into smaller groups, based on distance: One would walk a 2-mile loop, a second would run three miles, the third would go for four — all at a relatively gentle pace. One set of groups would leave a little after 6 a.m. and the second took off a bit after 7 a.m.

“People can come out and run with us and feel safe,” said Sgt. Jamie Alexander, who said the run would not be just a one-time thing. “This is the first of what will hopefully be a twice-a-week thing.”

The next run, he said, could take place Monday morning.

“It’s us trying to support the running community,” Alexander added.

Thursday’s run came as Austin police continued to investigate Wednesday’s reported attack on a woman running on a trail near the 1700 block of South Lakeshore Boulevard, a rapidly developing stretch of Southeast Austin off Riverside Drive. The victim described her attacker as a man in his 40s, about 5-foot-11, who spoke Spanish.

The assault was the third in a string of similar incidents, one of which Austin police believe they have solved.

A week before the Southeast Austin attack, a man tried to rape a woman who was running along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail near East Avenue and Cummings Street, but he was scared off by a good Samaritan carrying a handgun.

Austin police have charged 22-year-old Richard McEachern, whose criminal record includes arrests for lewdness and domestic violence, with sexual assault in the attack.

Almost a month earlier on Aug. 22, another woman was assaulted while running on Austin High School’s track, which sits near the MoPac bridge where Thursday’s police run began. Police say they are still investigating that case.

“Anytime (people) see anything suspicious, anything that makes them feel uncomfortable — especially down here on the hike-and-bike trail — by all means, call 911,” Alexander said. “We’ll send someone out to check it out.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Watch: Coyote attacks dog in suburban Chicago yard
Watch: Coyote attacks dog in suburban Chicago yard

An Illinois couple posted a scary video that showed their dog being attacked by a coyote. It happened very quickly in the Chicago suburb of Northfield, WGN reported. Boozer, a cairn terrier, was outside when a coyote rushed in and circled it. The coyote then attacked, biting the 14-pound dog’s head and dragging it around the back yard. The...
California swimmer hospitalized after sea lion bites him on the arm
California swimmer hospitalized after sea lion bites him on the arm

A California man was hospitalized after being bitten on the arm by a sea lion in the waters off San Francisco, The Los Angeles Times reported. The attack occurred Thursday near Aquatic Park, San Francisco police said. The man had been swimming when the sea lion approached him. The man said he felt threatened and began splashing water at the animal...
Female Democrat pulls out of House race amid sexual misconduct accusations
Female Democrat pulls out of House race amid sexual misconduct accusations

Andrea Ramsey, a Kansas Democrat running for a House seat in 2018, has dropped out of the race amid sexual misconduct accusations, according to the Kansas City Star. The retired businesswoman — who was considered one of the Democratic Party’s brightest political prospects — was hoping to challenge Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder...
Ex-wife of NBA star Lorenzen Wright arrested in connection to his murder
Ex-wife of NBA star Lorenzen Wright arrested in connection to his murder

The ex-wife of former NBA player Lorenzen Wright was arrested and jailed in California on Friday night.  Sherra Wright-Robinson was arrested in her Riverside, California, home Friday. Jail records show she was booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside at 9:28 p.m. PT. No charges are listed. Deborah Marion, Wright's mother...
Grandmother, granddaughter graduate together from college
Grandmother, granddaughter graduate together from college

For the first time in its 150-year history, Chicago State University awarded diplomas to a grandmother and granddaughter during the same ceremony, WLS reported. Belinda Berry, 62, and Karea Berry, 25, both walked across the stage at the Jones Convocation Center on Thursday to accept their diplomas.  Grandma graduated at the top of her class...
More Stories