Residents, apartment managers take precautions after sexual assaults

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - After a string of sexual assaults, neighbors and apartment managers are taking extra safety precautions. Bakersfield police and Kern County deputies are jointly investigating the attacks in east Bakersfield, and they are putting out information to that community.

Fliers are out at stores and apartments describing the suspect believed to be linked to three assaults, asking for the public's help, and listing safety tips.

A complex in the 2900 block of Virginia Avenue was the scene of one assault, one attempted assault and two burglaries that investigators say could all be related. Residents there are shaken.

"It's really sad," Benjamin Allison said on Thursday. "My wife and I live here, and my wife doesn't feel safe living here anymore."

Allison said he hadn't heard about the attempted rape, but he did know about the sexual assault and had heard something about burglaries.

Officers said the joint investigative task force is taking a hard look at all the incidents on Virginia, and other possible cases.

"We're going to look back to see if there's any other cases that may be related to this suspect," police Sgt. Jason Matson said. "We don't know exactly where this investigation will expand, but wherever it is, we want the community to rest assured that we're going to actively and aggressively pursue it."

Investigators said there was a sexual assault on July 18 in the 4300 block of Columbus Street. The assault on Virginia happened on Aug. 1, and the most recent rape was Aug. 19 in the 200 block of Quantico Avenue.

Now, the task force is further investigating previous incidents at the Virginia Avenue complex that could be related. Those were burglaries in March and May, and the attempted assault on July 1. Officers said the actions and description of the suspect are similar.

At that complex, manager Rena Vespa said Thursday that they stepped up safety measures after the attempted assault.

"We put in more lights in the areas that were dark that needed it," she told Eyewitness News. "We have security at night now, and that helps."

Resident Oscar Leon said he's lived in the complex for 13 years, and he's seen a change in security.

"I noticed ever since the incident they're getting off the cars now, they're going behind the houses," he said.

Resident Benjamin Allison said managers also recently put out more information on the Neighborhood Watch Program. But, he said that was general in nature, and he didn't hear anything specific about the burglary or attempted rape.

The manager said the complex also offered wooden dowels to any tenants who wanted them. The thick dowels were already cut to size, so they could be put into the windows of the apartments as extra security. She said that was done after the assault attempt, which was July 1.

But, then the assault happened after that, on Aug. 1.

"She actually had the wooden dowels in her windows," Vespa said. "I guess he just forced her into her apartment."

Investigators said two victims were sexually assaulted in that incident, but they are not releasing any specific information about any of the attacks.

Police spokeswoman Michaela Sims said the joint task force put out 250 fliers in the areas around the three assaults. The material gives a list of safety tips, and includes a hotline phone number and description of the suspect.

Investigators said he's a black man in his late 20s or 30s, and probably about 6 feet tall. He has a medium build, and was seen wearing a black ski mask and hooded sweatshirt during the incidents. The special number is (661) 852-7800.

Sims said investigators are getting tips from the public, and those are being followed up on. But, they hope for any more possible information. She warned the suspect was seen with a handgun in the last assault, so he's considered dangerous, and the public should be careful.

At the apartment on Virginia, Oscar Leon said he hasn't noticed anyone matching the suspect description near his complex. But, he wants that man found soon.

"I just hope they really find this guy, because whoever he is, he really needs help," Leon said.

And the apartment manager hopes the public will report anything that seems out of place.

"It could be nothing, and that's fine," Vespa said. "But you never know if that one little dot will connect."