The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

June 19, 2014

Officials encourage additional safety measures

OAK HILL — City officials are urging rail trail users to exercise caution while on the trail after a woman was brutally sexually assaulted early Saturday evening.  

Police arrested 47-year-old Thomas Gene Carter Jr., of Oak Hill, and charged him with kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree robbery.

The victim said she was walking and jogging on the rails-to-trails area of Allman Street when she was attacked from behind by someone wearing a mask and gloves.

Carter reportedly dragged her into a wooded area off the trail, tied her up, gagged her and used a knife to cut off her clothes and then sexually assaulted her.

The victim said he left her tied up and told her he would return to the area to sexually assault her again before killing her.

She was able to escape the restraints and ran to a home on Allman Street to seek help.

Oak Hill Police Chief Mike Whisman said he believes this was an isolated incident — “It’s the first incident of this nature we’ve had concerning the rail trail in Oak Hill. Hopefully it’s the last, but you never know.”

Both the Oak Hill Police Department and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office launched an extensive investigation into the allegations Saturday, sending officers, a bloodhound and forensic personnel to the scene of the crime. Police also utilized local media outlets and social networking websites for tips.

After receiving an anonymous tip through the Fayette County 911 Center, police were able to locate a man matching the physical description of the suspect. Officers obtained sufficient evidence to take him into custody.

“The response was tremendous,” Whisman said. “It’s good to know the community cares enough to help us out.”

Carter remains housed at Southern Regional Jail with bail set at $100,000. The victim has since been released from the hospital.

Whisman said he encourages users of the approximately 7-mile rail trail to avoid the trail before daylight and after dark, especially if they are alone.

“If you feel comfortable (being by yourself), there’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to be aware of your surroundings and how you can be safe and take care of yourself.”

He also encourages trail users to always carry a cell phone with them, as police cannot patrol the area 24/7.

Police do periodically patrol the trail, both on foot and on bike, and several cameras are set up through the city limits.

Whisman said parts of the trail are “very remote” and at times “not safe,” and just because there are cameras in some areas, that doesn’t deter all attackers.

“I would suggest they avoid those areas, especially after dark and before daylight. If you do go on it, make sure you have somebody with you.”

City manager Bill Hannabass said he hopes this incident does not deter Oak Hill citizens from using the trail; instead, he hopes the community pulls together to make it a safer place.

“The more good people that are on the rail trail, the safer it is.”

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