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Victoria Street assault cases remain a mystery

October 08, 2004

Marisa O'Neil

Six months after a string of sexual assaults on Victoria Street,

police are still working to solve the puzzling case.

In each of the 10 assaults, one to three young men grabbed a woman

from behind and groped her -- on one occasion, leaving a victim's

18-month-old son unattended in his stroller. The attacks all took

place on Victoria Street between Placentia Avenue and Harbor

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Boulevard.

They stopped in April just as suddenly as they had started in

November of last year. The case garnered wide-spread media attention

just before the assaults stopped.

Costa Mesa Police also stepped up their patrols in the area and

released fliers, including composite sketches of two possible

suspects.

That could have spooked the people who were committing the

assaults, Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Jack Archer said.

"After the public became more aware of them, they either backed

off or decided they had something better to do," Archer said.

Because all the women who said they were attacked described the

attackers as young men or teens, they could have been doing it for

thrills, Archer said. After a while, the thrill might have worn off,

he said.

"They could have got bored with it," he said.

It's also possible that the people involved were arrested on

unrelated charges and are off the streets, he said.

Costa Mesa Police have fliers with the composite sketches of the

alleged assailants posted throughout the station. If an officer

arrested someone and found similarities to the sketch, police could

ask one of the past assault victims to try to identify the new

arrestee, he said.

Another problem with finding people in such a case is the

reluctance of many victims to come forward and report attacks.

After many of the attacks were reported in January and April,

three more women came forward, reporting similar attacks in November

and December, Archer said.

Police held two classes in the neighborhood in April to teach

women how to avoid being victimized. Fewer than 10 people showed up,

Lt. John FitzPatrick said.

"We had a high degree of apathy from people regarding this unless

it directly involved them," FitzPatrick said. "But by no means is the

police department apathetic. It's still on our checklist."

Since the assaults stopped, City Councilman Allan Mansoor said, he

hasn't heard concerns from the community beyond their normal interest

in safety issues.

"After there was no more word on them, I guess people took that as

a good sign," Mansoor said. "The police increased their patrols, and

I guess that really had an effect."

Police did make one arrest in May after a 7-11 surveillance camera

caught a teenager reaching under the skirt of a female customer. The

store was at the corner of Victoria Street and Placentia Avenue.

Investigators decided that the incident was not related to the

other assaults and did not file charges. The boy did, however, have

to complete a community service program for first-time juvenile

offenders, Archer said.

Even though the attacks appear to have stopped, people should take

normal precautions when they walk in that area, or any other, he

said.

"When you're out, take safety precautions," he said. "Don't walk

by yourself. Let someone know where you're going."

Anyone with any information on the Victoria Street assaults is

asked to call Costa Mesa Police Det. Mike Delgadillo at (714)

754-5197.

* MARISA O'NEIL covers public safety and courts. She may be

reached at (949) 574-4268 or by e-mail at marisa.oneil@latimes.com.

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