Runners on edge after second attack on popular Austin trails

Sept 18, 2017
  • By Mark Wilson
  • American-Statesman Staff

Austin runners are on edge after a woman was reportedly attacked by a man while running around Lady Bird Lake last week.

An Austin police statement and messages circulating through running forums online said the incident happened around 5:45 a.m. Friday as the woman ran along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail near East Avenue and Cummings Street.

Another jogger heard the woman scream and intervened before she was sexually assaulted, police said.

Matt Fletcher, a longtime Austin runner, said he was with a small group of runners who arrived at the scene just after the attack.

Fletcher said he was approaching a restroom off Rainey Street when he spotted a man sprinting in the opposite direction trying to hold up his pants and clutching a pair of running shorts.

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As the runners continued along the trail they came upon the woman, who was missing her shorts and told them she had been attacked. Two other runners had already stopped to help her and called police, Fletcher said.

Some of the runners in the group went back to the trail and tried to find the attacker, but he was gone.

Police described the man suspected in the attack as having shaggy, short hair; being 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall; and weighing 215 to 250 pounds. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, no shirt and no shoes.

Police have increased patrols and officer presence along the trail in response to the incident, officials said.

Austin Runners Club President Iram Leon said runners had already expressed concerns about safety in the downtown area after a different woman was attacked at the Austin High School track Aug. 22.

Austin police said a man in his mid-40s, roughly 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing about 215 pounds, grabbed the woman from behind in a “bear hug” as she jogged around the track about 5 a.m.

Police said the man tried to put a rag over the woman’s mouth, but she was able to run away and call police after a brief struggle.

“Those are probably the top two spots that are used by Austin runners,” Leon said. “We’ve sent out an email to the entire (community) about being careful.”

READ MORE: Man tried to grab jogger at Austin High from behind, police say

Vania Lanas, a runner who lives in Travis Heights, said she trains in the area all the time.

“I don’t want to run in fear,” Lanas said. “I can’t fight a 250-pound man alone in the dark; I just can’t.”

Police on Monday confirmed they are investigating both cases.

They are looking into whether the two attacks are connected to each other or any other incidents, but investigators are still gathering evidence, officials said.

Fletcher said he got a good look at the man suspected in the attack and would probably be able to identify him in a lineup. But until the man is caught, he urged people to stay in groups while hitting the trails.

“We shouldn’t let this get in the way of enjoying our sport. We just need to do it safely,” Fletcher said. “I think the key to that is (not to) run alone.”