Joggers Exercise Caution After String of Forest Park Sex Attacks
QUEENS — Joggers in Forest Park say they are being more cautious after a string of six sexual assaults there over the past couple of years, including two recent incidents where the attacker used a stun gun.
Cops have beefed up their presence in the massive green space and parks crews are checking street lights along Forest Park Drive, which some joggers said have not been working recently.
Cops said that the man who attacked a 69-year-old woman in the park with a stun gun last week also sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in 2011. In the two most recent assaults — including one in March — the man used a stun gun.
According to a published report, some investigators believe that the suspect might have been in jail or temporarily targeting victims out of state, because there was a nearly a yearlong gap between two of the attacks.
Cops, who are offering a $22,000 reward in the case, set up a mobile command post last week at the corner of Park Lane South and Myrtle Avenue, the area where most of the attacks occurred.
Police cars were parked at some of the park’s entrances and along Forest Park Drive and sketches of the suspect — described as 30 to 40 years old about 5-foot-9, clean shaven with light brown hair — were also posted in the area.
A police spokeswoman said earlier this week that beefed-up patrols will be monitoring the area as long as needed.
“It’s only because of the police presence that I would come out and take my regular walk,” said Iris Salverilo, 46, an optician from Richmond Hill. “Otherwise I wouldn’t feel secure and comfortable. There are lots of areas in that park where you don’t see another human being.”
Motoyo Yamada, 43, an airline employee from Kew Gardens, who was running with her friend Rita Rivera, 57, also from Kew Gardens, said “she wished they [police] had surveillance like that all the time. They should also install cameras around main paths."
But Yamada feared that the increased patrols were temporary.
“After the previous attack in March, there were lots of police in the park — in the cars, on horses and in golf carts," she said. "But they were gone after two or three months.”
Bonnie Harper, from the Forest Park Runners, a group that has been jogging in the park since 1980, said the club “has recommended not run with headphones, stay in well-lit areas, running with a friend, run with a dog, and not take unnecessary chances.”
She said that once police make an arrest “it will probably go back to being a reasonably safe park.”
But Elane Corrilo, a teacher, said it was really scary that the same man was behind a number of attacks. “That means that there is someone out there preying on people and watching them," said Corrilo, 33.
Corrilo said she started avoiding the area around the bridge on Freedom Drive, which she said was secluded and dark. She also tries to run between 8-10 a.m. now, when there are more people in the park, instead of her usual 7:30 a.m. jogging time.
Other park-goers said they wanted to take a more proactive approach.
Florence Henley, 28, who bikes to work from Woodhaven to Hillside Avenue through the park, said she carries the sketch of the suspect with her.
“I’m in the park all the time, he is not stopping me,” she said referring to the suspect. “I really hope I come face to face with him. I would call 911 right away.”