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Claude Abran Finch / Hamilton County Sheriff's Office photo

After two separate incidents last month — a stalking and a sexual assault — on the Southern Adventist University campus, Collegedale police and campus safety are urging students to stay safe.

A man has been charged in the investigation of both incidents. Claude Abran Finch III was arrested Nov. 17 in connection to one incident of stalking and one incident of sexual assault on the campus grounds. Finch has been charged with sexual battery, stalking, reckless endangerment and evading arrest.

(READ MORE: Man faces stalking charge after alleged sexual assault on Southern Adventist University campus in Collegedale)

On Nov. 15 a student reported to Southern Adventist University campus safety suspicious activity involving a red Chevy hatchback with tinted windows in the parking lot across from the women's dormitory on Timberland Terrace. When campus officers arrived, the vehicle was gone.

The next day, the same student reported the red Chevy had parked behind her car, preventing her from leaving her parking space. Later, the red Chevy moved and she was able to leave the space, but as she traveled to class she noticed the Chevy was following her, according to a Collegedale Police Department report.

The student continued driving and called campus safety to ask for help. The Chevy eventually drove away as she waited for help. Campus safety officers escorted the young woman to class, and she declined to make a police report at that time, according to the police.

That evening at 8:13 p.m., the Collegedale Police Department responded to a report of sexual assault on campus. A student who'd been jogging was reportedly groped by a man who came up behind her and grabbed her genitalia. The student hit her attacker and ran towards the dormitory area to call for help. She described her attacker as a thin black male, around 5 feet, 10 inches tall wearing red sweatpants and a black hoodie, according to police reports. She told police she had seen him exit a red Chevrolet hatchback with tinted windows.

WAYS TO STAY SAFE

— Don’t walk alone, especially at night. If you can’t have a friend with you, call campus safety.

— Know your resources. Make sure you have all numbers for security and/or police in your phone.

— Stay alert. Even if you walk with headphones in, always be aware of your surroundings.

— Be careful about posting your location. Consider disabling the location tracker on your social media to prevent unwanted people from knowing where you are.

— Be secure. Lock your doors and windows when you’re sleeping or leave your room. If someone always leaves the main door to the dorm open, tell security.

— Make a plan B. Spend some time thinking about backup plans for potentially sticky situations. If your phone dies, do you have a few numbers memorized to get help? Do you have emergency cash in case you can’t use a credit card? Do you have the address to your dorm or college memorized? If you drive, is there a spare key hidden, do you have gas in your car and a set of jumper cables?

 

(READ MORE: New Collegedale police chief updates on pursuit policy, works to make lasting change on department)

Such a vehicle was later spotted by Collegedale police. An officer pulled the vehicle over, believing the driver matched the student's description, and the officer told the driver to exit the vehicle.

The driver fled the scene, speeding through a populated student housing area, according to the police report.

Officers later were told the identity of the driver when they tracked down the owner of the car, who said her boyfriend, Finch, had been using it that evening. Police said they confirmed the identity of the man by pulling up his driver's license photo. Finch was arrested the next day.

In the wake of the incidents, Shawn Haas, associate director of campus safety for Southern Adventist, said his department takes such reports seriously and it "sent out notifications and periodic updates to students" after the attack and during the subsequent search for the suspect.

Students are required to register their vehicles with campus safety, and throughout the day campus safety officers patrol the campus and work to identify any vehicles that haven't been registered. For places like the village apartments, however, it's harder for them to monitor who comes in and out with it being such a high-traffic area.

"[We're] encouraging [students] to use the buddy system," Haas said. "We've increased patrol around the housing area and where there's high traffic flow."

(READ MORE: Collegedale police officer struck by vehicle in front of Ooltewah Middle School)

Campus safety encourages students to use their escorting services should they not feel safe traveling to and from class, as well as taking any self-defense courses. They also work with the Collegedale Police Department in ensuring student safety is kept.

"One of the cool things that campus safety has carried on, that started out with the police department is the rape, aggression and defense classes," said Lt. Jamie Heath, information officer for the police department. "It came in about maybe 15 years ago, and our police department brought it to the area, and campus safety started running with the program."

Contact La Shawn Pagan lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.

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