Police investigate sexual assault of North Shore runner

Police investigate sexual assault of North Shore runner

October 1st, 2014 by Hannah Smith in Local Regional News


Anyone with any information about the attack is asked to call Chattanooga police at 423-698-2525.


Tips to stay safe on your run or bike route:

• Run with a partner or dog, in well-lighted areas.

• Avoid unpopulated areas.

• Trust your intuition about a person or an area.

• Alter or vary your running route pattern.

• If you use headphones, run with the volume low and just one earbud in.

• Have a cell phone with you at all times.

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

POLL: Do you feel safe running in Chattanooga?

Site of sexual attack on runner on Chattanooga's North Shore.

Site of sexual attack on runner on Chattanooga's...

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

Many local athletes were shocked Tuesday to learn that a 69-year-old man had been sexually assaulted the morning before while running on Chattanooga's North Shore.

Jenni Berz, a runner, said the incident took her off guard.

"That's just kind of scary," she said.

At a news conference Tuesday, police would not comment on the victim's condition or give a more specific location of the attack other than to say it occurred on West Mississippi Avenue.

"If we narrow it down to a specific location, a specific block, we don't want to take away from the awareness that we're trying to get the entire community to come together," said David Roddy, the Chattanooga Police Department's chief of staff.

Roddy did say there would be increased police surveillance in the zone where the victim said the assault occurred, and in neighboring areas.

The attacker was been described as a black male with a short afro/flat-top-style haircut, about 5 feet, 8 or 9 inches and 180-200 pounds.

The attack occurred at about 7:30 a.m. near Normal Park Museum Magnet Upper School.

Alan Outlaw, a coach at Normal Park's lower school, said his students used to run between the upper and lower campuses along Mississippi Avenue. But this year the school decided to have the kids run in the parks rather than on the roads. Outlaw said Monday's attack affirmed that decision, and that students have been instructed to tell an adult if they ever feel frightened.

"We give the kids a message and tell them to let us know if you see anything suspicious," he said.

Bill Brock, president of the Chattanooga Track Club, said Monday's attack should be a cue to athletes to be aware of their surroundings, but he noted that problems like this are rare in his experience.

"Every so often there's a story, something happens where it gets a little bit squirrelly," he said. "But my sense of frequency, it might be like once a year."

Brock said the Mississippi Avenue area is one of the track club's popular routes.

"We've got runners over there all the time," he said. "North Chattanooga is very popular. I would say literally hundreds of runners run that route through the week, all times of day."

He noted, however, that in the track club, runners tend to run in groups rather than alone.

"I do think if you're running alone you should run in more well-lit areas and more trafficked areas," he said.

Although many runners and cyclists said they've never felt unsafe in the city, cyclist Vicki Cox said she has friends who have felt at risk.

"I know friends who carry a gun when they ride," Cox said. "They say they wouldn't ride without one. I know people who wear a helmet camera just for that reason, for protection."

Ultimately, athletes should follow police guidelines and common sense to try and stay safe, Outlaw said.

"Just be smart, don't be afraid," he said. "Anything goes wrong and people want to get afraid, but just be smart."

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at hsmith@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6731.