By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Erica Crampton went out one night in late July for a Slurpee at 7-Eleven, and on her way home was assaulted by an unidentified man along a dark section of the bike path next to Highway 133 in Carbondale.
In the five weeks or so since the attack, Crampton told The Sopris Sun, she has generally come to grips with the incident and feels she is working to move forward with her life, including plans for some therapy sessions to bolster any possible mental-health hangovers from the ordeal.
But she also feels the local police and the town government in general need to act more firmly to make the town’s streets safer for women walking alone at night.
“I just hope that they either catch that guy (her attacker) or, in lieu of that, do more to make people feel safer,” she said at the end of an interview.
Crampton, 30, lives with her boyfriend in a small apartment on the north side of town, near the intersection of Cowen Drive and Highway 133.
On the night of July 22, she recalled, she got the urge to have a Slurpee and headed out on her own for the mile-long walk to the 7-Eleven and back.
“I was thinking, you know, that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal” to do the walk on her own, she recalled. “It was a Friday night, people were out.”
She was walking north from 7-Eleven, with earphones in, but before she got far, in fact right at the northern end of the Sopris Shopping Center, she was approached by a man she did not know. “This guy asked me if I wanted to go with him somewhere, and I said, ‘No,’ because, like, obviously, I’m not going with (him) anywhere.”
She resumed walking, looking back once and not seeing the man, and continued on her way.
She said she looked back over her shoulder more than once during the walk, and did not see anyone following her, adding that she was feeling a little anxious at that point, but “I wasn’t so nervous that I had 9-1-1 ready to dial or anything like that.”
But as she neared Cowen Drive, she said, the assault began without warning.
“He just came up from behind and grabbed me and sort of tackled me down,” she said.
The man grabbed her phone out of her hand, but made no move to snatch the purse that was hanging loosely from her shoulder, she said.
“He tried to keep me down, but meanwhile I could see cars going by — but they couldn’t see me,” she continued.
That part of the bike trail is dark, she said, and while there were no obscuring bushes blocking them from the view from the road, it was dark enough that she felt she was nearly invisible.
As she struggled, she said, the man punched her a couple of times, splitting her lip (it required stitches) and blackening her left eye. But she punched back, a couple of times.
“I think he thought I was younger, and that I would maybe be a little bit more, I don’t know, submissive,” she said, adding that she did not detect the smell of alcohol during the attack, and that the man did try to put his hands down her pants once.
But, she continued, when she began “aggressively fighting back, he basically gave up and took off.”
She said the man did say some things during the attack.
“He said he had a knife, but he didn’t have it in his hand. I assumed he would try to stab me, but I think he didn’t have a knife. He was trying to scare me.”
When he ran off, she discovered later, he dropped her phone, which she and her boyfriend found the next day.
“I know that he was Hispanic,” she recalled, “because his accent was pretty thick and noticeable, so I attempted to speak to him in Spanish. I don’t know a whole lot, but I was, like, maybe he’ll let me go. That didn’t really seem to help.”
She described her assailant as about five-feet, five-inches tall, wearing a dark pullover, “like a hoodie type thing, and shorts, and he was wearing, like, slip-on sandals, like flip-flops but kind of like slippers, without the toe.”
And her description, she said, has led to some of her friends saying they think they have seen him around town, and would recognize him again.
But police have found no clues to who the man is or where he is from.
Police Chief Gene Schilling told The Sopris Sun that his department has sent DNA samples from “a couple of people of interest” to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for analysis and possible identification.
But he said that as of Monday, the police had no suspects in mind.
Sexual assaults rare?
Although Crampton and others have said they believe sexual assaults of this type are uncomfortably common in Carbondale, Schilling said his office knows of only two sexual assaults on women, by strangers, in the past couple of years.
An assault on a much younger girl, on June 28 in the area of Gianinetti Park, was not sexual in nature, Schilling said emphatically.
He denied rumors that the girl was found, after the attack, with her pants pulled down.
He also said that, despite feelings to the contrary among some in town, police do not believe the two assaults were the work of the same man. Police were unable to pull any helpful images from video cameras in the vicinity of either attack, he said.
Schilling said sexual assaults by strangers are rare in town. “I’ve heard that these happen and people don’t come in to report them,” he explained, saying there have been eight sexual assaults in the past two years where the assailant was known to the victim. One case involved a young boy who reported several sexual assaults, and only the two referred to above that qualify as sexual assaults by strangers.
“So, to me, two in that time period … I don’t think two is way out there” in terms of frequency, he said.
Schilling said police will be stepping up their patrols in “outlying areas,” on bicycle, foot and in squad cars, particularly in “the dark areas.”
In addition, Schilling said the Carbondale Recreation and Community Center will be offering self-defense classes for the general public, including women, starting this fall, with police department involvement.
According to the department’s website (carbondalerec.com), the classes will be free “thanks to Sahn Tae Kwon Do,” and will begin on Sept. 24 at the Recreation Center next to town hall.
Crampton and others have been critical of the town’s overall response to their demands for heightened public safety efforts, starting with increased police patrols around the community, which Crampton said she has yet to notice.
“The first thing that ought to happen is more police surveillance, more police presence around Carbondale,” she said. “People that have bad intentions, if they see a cop, they’re less likely to go through with it.”
She also showed up at a meeting of the town board of trustees recently, publicly acknowledging that she had been assaulted.
“The goal is to try to raise awareness with them (police and the trustees) that there is an issue around this and they need to try to do something about this.”
She noted that Trustee Katrina Byars had brought the matter up to the board in the past but “it was quickly dismissed and not even added to the agenda” of the Aug. 24 meeting, where she and others voiced their concerns to the board.
“I think that now, once they saw everyone there, it made them realize that we’re not going to take this lying down, and that something needs to happen.”
The night sky
Besides increased police presence on the streets, she said, the town needs to figure out a way to light up the darker spaces along streets and in parks.
She maintained there are ways to do it “that are not interfering with people seeing the night sky, because that clearly is more of an issue for a lot of the community than safety,” which she believed was the trustees’ attitude when Byars first brought it up.
“It’s like, I can understand that, but it’s not that hard to get a little bit out of town and find somewhere … like, all around us, it gets dark. There’s plenty of places where you can go and enjoy the night sky.”
And some kinds of lights, she said, would not detract from the night sky because they are pointed downward and illuminate essentially just the nearby ground.
As for Crampton’s state of mind, she says she is steadier now than right after the attack, but that she still is anxious and always aware of the potential for another attack.
She does not go out much at night, and when she does and is suddenly confronted by a darkly-dressed male in an area with little light, she finds herself getting scared.
Even without a man in the vicinity, she is more aware of the darkness and of possible hiding places along trails and sidewalks.
“Now, I’m like, wow, somebody would easily have been hiding along there, any number of places,” she said, adding that she likely will enroll in a self-defense class as soon as it is offered to put her mind more at ease.
She cited statements by former trustee Ed Cortez, who is campaigning to become Carbondale’s next mayor and who sharply criticized the board of trustees on Aug. 24 for not doing enough to enhance street safety.
“Like Ed Cortez said, the town is supposed to provide roads, water and sewer, and safety,” she declared.
Published in The Sopris Sun on September 1, 2016.