The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


June 18, 2014

Trail safety

Heed Oak Hill officials’ advice

— A vicious act on the popular Oak Hill rail-trail over the weekend has rightfully shocked the community.

Coming off a highly successful White Oak Rail-Trail Expo that brought hundreds of visitors to the area just a week earlier, the trail took on a darker tone as an Oak Hill man was arrested and charged with the felony crimes of kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree robbery after a sexual assault on a lone woman in an isolated area of the rail-trail Saturday.

The victim said she was walking and jogging on the trail when she was attacked from behind by someone wearing a mask and gloves. The suspect reportedly dragged her into a wooded area off the trail, tied her up, gagged her and then used a knife to cut off her clothing. The man then sexually assaulted the woman.

When the suspect left the victim, still tied, he told her that he would return to the area to sexually assault her again before killing her. The victim was able to free herself from her restraints and ran through the woods to a home on Allman Street.

“This is an extremely unusual event to occur on our rails-to-trails exercise path,” Chief Mike Whisman of the Oak Hill Police Department told The Register-Herald. “The Oak Hill Police Department regularly patrols this exercise path, both on foot and by bicycle patrol. Unfortunately we can’t be everywhere at once.”

That is not a justification, but a fact, and even cameras along the entire length of the rail-trail could not stop a real-time event.

To that end, city officials on Monday morning offered sensible safety tips on the use of the rail-trail and urged local citizens to help keep the popular area safe.

We think they’re on the right track.

Bill Hannabass, city manager, called for personal responsibility and community action in improving safety.

“(This) is the first serious issue we’ve had (in the four years of the trail’s existence),” he said. “We do take security ... very seriously. Unfortunately, bad things happen sometimes.”

“It’s mostly common sense, but (safety) is something we need to think about,” he said.

- If you are alone on the trail, be sure to have a method of communication. “If you don’t have a cell phone, don’t get too far away from people,” he advised.

- Avoid more isolated areas of the nearly 8-mile trail if you are on your own. “If you get the feeling you’re about to enter an unsafe situation, avoid that.”

- Keep an eye out for others. “The more good people that are on the rail-trail, the safer it will be.”

- Be tuned in to your surroundings, both the people and the locale.

Hannabass also urged community members to prevent the rail-trail from turning into a frightening place to be avoided. “I don’t want that ever to happen.”

“I challenge us all to make more use of it,” Hannabass said. “I encourage more participation on the rail-trail, not less.

“I would really like to see the community be proactive in making that trail safer. Make sure we own that rail-trail. It’s up to us,” Hannabass said.

“This is still our rail-trail.”

The White Oak Rail-Trail has proven to be extremely popular and beneficial for residents of all ages. We urge the community to heed the officials’ advice and help monitor the trail for the safety of all.

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