Sexual assault cases prompt fearful reactions

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A string of sexual assault cases has neighbors on edge and on the lookout.

Fliers are out in the Riverlakes area with concerns the rapist was spotted there, and suspecting the assault cases are linked to the same man. Police say that is not the case, but they urge caution and ask the public to report any suspicious activity.

That's exactly what Tara Carter did on Thursday morning, and officers say she did exactly the right thing.

"It was a little scary to go home and you see your front door open," Carter told Eyewitness News. She was still shaken up by the incident. But, when it happened, Carter did not go in the house. She called police from inside her locked car.

Carter said officers were at her house in just over six minutes.

"They came in, guns raised, yelling through the house," she described. When they found no one, Carter went inside. She's sure someone has just been there and left.

"The dowels that I use in my door were removed," she described. "It just felt wrong, something felt off in the house."

She had been at the gym and returned to find the door open.

And, she had just heard about the flier posted in Riverlakes.

The flier says: "I saw this rapist this morning at 7 a.m."

The neighbor making up the sign said they saw a suspect "cruising" in the area. The flier also has a composite sketch from a recent sexual assault in northwest Bakersfield, and the neighbor wonders if the suspect is the same as in several other incidents.

Bakersfield Police Department spokeswoman Michaela Sims said officers do not believe one suspect is linked to all the recent cases.

In July and August, four women were assaulted in three locations in east Bakersfield. Then the first week of September, police reported a victim was sexually assaulted in the 800 block of Oak Street. The most recent incident was Sept. 9 in the 8700 block of Fox Run Drive near Brimhall Road.

Sims said that based on their investigation, officers do not believe the incidents on Fox Run and Oak Street and connected.

"And, neither of those suspects, at this point of time in our investigation, are thought to be the suspect of the sexual assaults in east Bakersfield," she added.

Carter said that last location on Fox Run is near her home, that's why she worried someone in her house could be the rapist.

"I absolutely worried that was what it was," she said.

She also said the officers who responded told her she did the right thing by not going in the house. And, Carter said one policeman offered more advice.

"He said self-defense, he said you have to make sure you're prepared," Carter related. "He said Tasers. He said that women need Tasers."

And, Carter is sure she will get more Tasers, and plans to have them in various parts of her home.

Police have been urging precautions since the incidents were first reported. That advice includes leaving on lights at night around the home and installing motion-detection lighting. They also urge residents to put wooden dowels in windows, and making sure locks are working on doors and windows.

And, officers want the public to call law enforcement if something seems suspicious. Sims said the department will follow up on information that comes in, and she said the investigations continue on all the recent assaults.

Police also urge neighbors to pay attention to their surroundings, and be more vigilant.

Carter said that's exactly what she will do. On Thursday, she followed her instincts, and did not go into her home. She'll be extra sure to do that in the future.

"I'll be turning around next time I wonder if my door's locked," Carter said. "I'll be turning around to make sure it's locked, and I'll listen to myself even more next time."