Despite a spate of recent assaults during the last few months, residents claim a trail along the Bethesda section of the Capital Crescent Trail is still quite safe and well policed.
A total of three separate assaults have taken place in the last three months in a tunnel that runs under Wisconsin Avenue along the 11-mile hiker/biker trail connecting Georgetown to Bethesda. Montgomery County police made an arrest in the latest incident, an attempted robbery and second-degree assault that happened just before 9 p.m. Sept. 29 in the tunnel, a response that trail-goers said is typical of the area.
“That tunnel is a very short distance from the second district [police] headquarters, so generally their response times to call for service there are vey short,” said Ron Tripp chairman of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail. “I've never heard of any complaints in terms of slow response times in that area.”
The Sept. 29 assault took place at 8:50 p.m. when two teenage victims walking through the tunnel were approached by a group of five to six teenage boys, said Montgomery County police spokeswoman Rebecca Innocenti. One of the boys approached the first victim and grabbed them, demanding money, Innocenti said.
“That was when the second victim attempted to intervene in the attempted robbery, then the second victim was punched in the head and face by the suspect,” she said, adding that, according to the victims’ accounts, none of the other boys were involved in the attempted robbery.
“It was really just this one suspect,” she said. “In fact, at one point the teens attempted to separate the two; the victims and the suspect.”
The group of teens and the suspect left the area before police arrived and both victims also left, Innocenti said. After arriving at home, the victim who had been struck was taken to the hospital but released with minor injuries, she said.
Shortly after the altercation, police received a tip from the community and, on Oct. 4, detectives arrested a juvenile male who they believe was responsible for the attempted robbery, Innocenti said.
The Sept. 29 assault was the third call responded to by county police in the tunnel since July 6, Innocenti said. A 17-year-old male was robbed by two juveniles July 6 and two boys, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old, were eventually charged in that case, while a 15-year-old male was robbed July 20 by two teenage boys, Innocenti said. No arrests have been made in the July 20 incident and it is not known if that robbery is linked to the Sept. 29 altercation, she said.
The tunnel, which runs 855 feet, formerly served to let trains pass under Wisconsin Avenue back when the trail was a railroad track, according to the coalition’s website. The tunnel was closed off for several years, but it was re-opened to foot traffic in 1998 after the coalition launched a campaign to keep trail users from having to cross Wisconsin Avenue on foot, the website states.
“A tunnel is different than an open air environment; it comes out into a sort of hidden area behind a park,” Tripp said. “It's not the trail that's unsafe, I think at that point it’s the people using the trail … Everybody's got to take reasonable precautions going into a tunnel like that: no one use the trail alone after dusk, at all times of the day or night everyone must remain aware of their surroundings.”