Durham, N.C. — Dozens of Durham residents walked, jogged and biked Saturday along the American Tobacco Trail, marking the second event in the last three weeks designed to combat crime on the trail.
So far this year, 12 crimes have been reported on the 7½ miles of the trail that run through Durham, seven assaults, four robberies and one case of indecent exposure. In 2011, five robberies, two assaults and six cases of indecent exposure were reported on the Durham portion of the 20-mile trail that runs from Durham to Apex.
Durham authorities hope Saturday's "Walk with a Friend Day," sponsored by the Partners Against Crime group, encourages people to take back the trail.
"The more citizens and people we can get out here, the more we can make sure that this stays a great resources for the community," Durham city manager Thomas Bonfield said.
Tania Dautlick, who frequents the trail, said she hoped Saturday's event would remind people that there is safety in numbers.
"Everyone I know and talk to loves using it for exercise and commuting," she said. "I try not to think about (the incidents) too much myself."
In August, some Durham residents who live near the trail wrote to Durham City Council members and other officials about recent crime on the trail, and many said they no longer use it.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez says that the police department has increased patrols in the area and is looking at all possible options – ranging from surveillance cameras to emergency phones on the trail – to help keep the trail-goers safe.
The department has also bought three utility terrain vehicles for use on the trail and posted signs warning people to be alert.
"I usually run alone when I do my long runs, so I would definitely think twice before doing that and come out with my husband or sons," Ginny Ghezzo said.
Saturday's event came three days after the latest assault. Ginny Mueller told police she was walking near the intersection of Apex and Fargo streets around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday when she was knocked to the ground and attacked.
Police investigators said Thursday they believe the assault was sexually motivated and not related to the 11 other reported incidents on the trail.
Police don't have any suspects and asked anyone with any information to call Crime Stoppers at 919-683-1200.
The alleged attacker was described only as being a stocky black man between 25 and 35 years old and standing about 5 feet 11 inches. He was wearing all black clothing.