Police urge community to be cautious on bike trails, continue search for knife attacker

cpassant@centredaily.comDecember 15, 2012 

— Penn State police continue to search for the man who attacked a graduate student on a bike trail Wednesday, cutting her neck with a knife.

The victim, whose name has not been disclosed and is described only as a 40-year-old woman, was attacked on the popular trail near the Sunset Park area in Overlook Heights, police said. She was able to escape her attacker after she bit his hand. She was treated and released from Mount Nittany Medical Center on Wednesday.

Although university police have re-interviewed the woman and talked with witnesses who helped her at the scene as well as others who said they spotted a man matching his description, no arrest has been made, said university spokeswoman Lisa Powers.

“We’ve been receiving many tips and encourage anyone in this area that hasn’t called us to call us right away with their information, even if they don’t think they saw anything unusual — it might match up with other information and bring us closer to catching the suspect,” Powers said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

The attacker is described as a white man in his 20s or 30s, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, with facial hair that may come to a point on his chin. He was thought to be wearing dark-colored clothing and a gray jacket. He has a slim to medium build and might have a noticeable bite mark on his hand.

Ferguson Township police, assisted by other departments as well as state police, first handled the investigation but turned it over to Penn State police Thursday.

The trail, which weaves through Penn State Arboretum land, is under the jurisdiction of the university, Powers said.

“It has been determined that this is university property — very much outside of central campus,” Powers said. “We always hope that people will use caution anywhere they may be traveling, but particularly in areas that are not populated or well-traveled. Unfortunately, crimes occur in all settings.”

Powers urged those who use the trail to exercise caution.

“We are asking community members to walk in groups, be extra cautious and remain aware of their surroundings,” she said. “If they feel threatened or see suspicious activity, they should not hesitate to call the police.”

The bike trail through the arboretum has several spurs. The one on which the victim was attacked begins in Sunset Park off McKee Street and continues to Clinton Avenue near Overlook Heights Park in Ferguson Township. That portion is well-traveled by students going to and from campus from North Atherton Street neighborhoods.

Another spur connects the university with the Vairo Boulevard neighborhoods in Patton Township, and the Bellefonte Central Trail dissects the arboretum agricultural fields from the Sunset Park area to Toftrees. Although the area is remote, it is frequented also by joggers, bicyclists and neighbors walking their dogs.

Powers said reports of attacks on the trail are unusual.

“No one can recall an incident of this nature occurring on these trails, and we certainly hope it’s the last,” she said.

Anyone with information should contact Penn State police at 863-1111 or Centre County Crime Stoppers at 877-99-CRIME. Anonymous tips can be submitted at www.police.psu.edu/witness/.

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Follow Christopher Passante on Twitter @ChrisPassante

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