Police have ramped up patrols around the LSU lakes and are urging joggers to be vigilant in the wake of an assault of a 30-year-old prosecutor who was choked unconscious during an evening jog.
The attack, which happened about an hour after sunset Nov. 21 along a popular running route, has frightened local runners and prompted some to begin carrying pepper spray.
“It’s really unnerving,” said Kaitlin Sylvester, a 27-year-old who frequently runs around City Park Lake. “Because of the time change now, it’s kind of difficult to run when it’s still light outside and work a normal 40-hour-a-week job.”
Law enforcement officials said the lakes are still a safe place to work out, even as they encouraged joggers to run with a partner after dark and keep a close eye on their surroundings.
“I wish I could give each of you an officer to escort you while training, it just isn’t practical,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie said in a statement to the local running community that has circulated on Facebook. “While this increased presence will help, we ask you to be diligent in planning your workouts with personal safety in mind.”
The fear factor has been compounded by the attempted abduction of an 11-year-old girl Nov. 19 in the Garden District, a quiet neighborhood near the lakes. Authorities reiterated Monday that the incidents appear to be unrelated.
“I don’t go out there at night or even when the sun is setting by myself,” said Emily Grefer, a 19-year-old sophomore at LSU who enjoys walking around the lakes.
Capt. Cory Lalonde, a spokesman for the LSU Police Department, said the lakes are still a “relatively safe” place to exercise. Like the Baton Rouge Police Department, LSU police also have increased patrols in the area since the attack.
“We don’t want people to have a false sense of security,” Lalonde said. “Don’t be hesitant to report suspicious activity.”
The attack on the prosecutor, who works under District Attorney Hillar Moore III, happened shortly after 6 p.m. in the 2500 block of East Lakeshore Drive. Police have said she was running with headphones on when someone grabbed her from behind in a choke hold until she lost consciousness.
When she came to, the man was punching her in the stomach and chest area. He fled the scene after she began screaming, authorities said.
Moore said the woman does not appear to have been targeted because of her work, and that the attack underscored the reality that anyone can be the victim of a violent crime. Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman, said detectives do not have any suspects, adding the investigation is continuing.
Surveillance cameras at a nearby residence captured some footage of the assailant, but the darkened images were said to be of little value toward identifying him. Police have described the attacker as a muscular black man, 5 feet, 8 inches to 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 185 to 200 pounds, who wore a reddish-pink shirt with dark-colored shorts or pants.
The attack was not the first at the LSU lakes this year. A woman jogging there in late August was beaten and robbed of her iPhone 5 in the 3100 block of East Lakeshore Drive, according to police.
The victim, who had declined to give her smartphone to her assailants, was punched, kicked and thrown to the ground during the incident, which happened before 4 p.m. in broad daylight.
Two women, Kamerriah Webb, 17, and Courtney C. Fruge, 19, were charged with first-degree robbery and are awaiting trial.
While many have weighed taking new precautions, regular runners have not allowed the recent violence to prevent them from enjoying the lakes, said Jenni Peters, owner of Varsity Sports on Perkins Road. The business posted a photograph of Jogger Fogger Pepper Spray on its Facebook page after the recent attack, a product employees said they had not stocked for more than 10 years.
“I’ve been running around (the lakes) for 30 plus years and have never felt vulnerable,” Peters said. “This just makes us a little more vigilant than the day before it happened, but I don’t think it’s going to get anybody out of their routine.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado said he has been talking with Entergy and Department of Public Works officials since the attack to improve lighting around the lakes.
“It is certainly a safe place, but just like anywhere else, you have to take precautions,” Delgado said. “You can get robbed at the mall. Bad things can happen anywhere.”
In his statement, Dabadie suggested runners let someone know their route and when they will be running. He also suggests carrying a cellphone in case of an emergency and, if using ear buds, to leave one ear free to be more cognizant of surroundings.
Other tips include wearing bright, reflective clothing and running in groups in well-lighted areas.