Attack shakes Bird Rock

Though police are characterizing a recent attack as an “isolated incident,” community concern is growing over the safety of a popular bike path between Camino de la Costa in Bird Rock and Nautilus Street.

A beating and sexual attack last week prompted the Bird Rock Community Council to issue a warning not to use the trail alone and “to stay informed and stay alert.”

A resident who lives adjacent to the trail said, “I think this incident has been waiting to happen for a long time,”

The person described the path as “dark. There’s not a light anywhere. Everybody comes there, people with their dogs, nannies with baby trailers, elderly people walking.”

Police Lt. Carolyn Kendrick is heading the investigation into the beating and sexual attack of a woman on the trail last week.

She said police were dispatched at 6:40 a.m. Nov. 18 after a passer-by found a bruised and traumatized woman lying on the bike path near the intersection of Draper Avenue and Gravilla Street near Starkey Park.

Time uncertain

Kendrick said the exact time of the assault is uncertain.

“She was in a state of shock and could have been unconscious,” she said. “The actual crime could have occurred as early as 4:30 or 5 a.m.”

The victim’s roommate, who requested anonymity, said the victim was headed south toward Bird Rock to visit a friend when she was approached by a man walking in the opposite direction toward La Jolla High School. He asked her for a cigarette, and she replied that she didn’t have one.

“The next thing she knew,” said her roommate, “he punched her on the side of the face and knocked her to the ground. Then, after all the unpleasantries, she ran south and was later found curled up by the bike path.”

Known by paramedics

Her roommate said after the victim was discovered, someone went for help to Fire Station 13 nearby.

“The paramedics knew her,” her roommate said. “She is epileptic and they had helped her with seizures.”

The victim’s roommate said her friend is angry, upset and scared.

“I think she’s blocking it (the incident) out,” she said.

Her roommate added that the woman “doesn’t want to finger the wrong person.”

Kendrick said a man, whom she identified as “a person of interest,” was arrested shortly after the assault and booked into county jail on outstanding warrants. He was identified as 37-year-old Robert Hentschel of San Diego.

Lab work is being done on evidence collected at the crime scene, Kendrick said.

The path is frequented by homeless people and possibly drug dealers, the resident who lives nearby said.

“We’re all scared to go out at night. We’re going out with our pets in twos and threes now. We need some patrolling of that bike trail. We need lights.”

‘Stay alert’

The Bird Rock Community Council has issued a community alert warning people about the remoteness and danger of the black-topped bike path. The council encourages students to “travel with a buddy” and for everyone to be aware of the surroundings.

The warning noted that a man accosted a sixth grader on his way from school there a year ago. There have also been problems in the past with off-leash dogs threatening bike-path users.

Those who see suspicious activity should report it to the police or the fire station on Nautilus, the council advised.

Joe La Cava, council president, said with it getting light out earlier in the morning, more people are walking their pets or exercising before starting their days.

“People don’t appreciate that it becomes an isolated trail,” he said. “This really is a community issue. It’s a very unique amenity. It’s a difficult question. Do we want to put up lights at night that would defeat its purpose as an idyllic setting away from the noise of the streets?”