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Caution suggested for nighttime walkers

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Late at night during the Sundance Film Festival, as the woman walked to the condominium where she was staying, there was no protection.

The lights along the route, some say, are mediocre, the police do not regularly conduct foot patrols at that hour unless they are on Main Street and Park City does not have ‘panic’ buttons, devices that allow people, if they are threatened, to connect to the police.

As two men approached her, all she could do is run. They caught her, sexually assaulted her and fled when she fought back, the police say. The attack occurred at about 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 24 in a field north of the Park City Library and Education Center, the police say, and the woman was not injured.

The attack is the worst random street crime in Park City since the spring of 2005, when a man told the police he was mugged at the southern end of Park Avenue.

The police caution people to be aware of who is around them when they are walking late at night but say there are few programs to protect them. They say there has never been much interest in Park City in installing the panic buttons, which are popular on college campuses, but officers are available to talk to people or groups about personal safety.

The police have talked to Sundance staffers in previous years about safety but did not do so in 2007, Lt. Phil Kirk says. The woman who was attacked is from Florida and was in Park City for the film festival.

"People need to take precautions on their own," Kirk says, explaining safety features like panic buttons do not always protect people and might not have helped in the most recent attack if the woman was not near one when she was confronted.

He says he usually does not recommend the panic buttons and prefers that people call the police. Cell phones, he says, are more effective than panic buttons, indicating people might abuse the buttons in situations that are not emergencies.

"You can’t have a device everywhere it’s needed," he says.

The police continue to investigate but say the victim is not providing new information as officers seek the two suspects.

The attack occurred as City Hall conducts a wide-ranging study about walking and bicycling trends and it is unclear whether the incident will influence the research. Lots of people have been interested in the study but the consultants and City Hall staffers running it say that there have been few comments about personal safety.

Instead, the Parkites have been interested in the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists from cars. They want City Hall to make routes safer for people not driving.

"We heard a lot about crossings. We heard a lot about connectors and connections," says Jon Weidenhamer, the City Hall planner assigned to the study, which a consultant has led.

He says Park City is a safe place and "the fact that it hasn’t been identified speaks to that."

But a recent survey conducted for City Hall as part of the study shows Parkites do not overwhelmingly agree. The survey finds that, on a scale of 1 to 5, walking in Park City rates a 3.42. At night, the rating plummets. The survey shows that, on the same scale, lighting at night rates a 2.39. Just 9 percent, however, say they do not use paths and sidewalks more often because they are not safe.

Many of the comments during a series of open houses regarded unhappiness with crosswalks like those on Kearns Boulevard. Other crosswalks, like those at the Rail Trail and on Park Avenue at Holiday Village, have also been criticized.

"Am I safe, will I get hit by a car," Weidenhamer says, describing the input from Parkites.

As the consultant readies a set of recommendations, personal safety could be considered, he says. Mark Vlasic, the consultant, expects that he will address lighting but otherwise personal safety "did not come up as a strong issue."

The attack, because of its apparent randomness, is not mobilizing people for improvements or more police patrols. Carol Potter, who leads the not-for-profit Mountain Trails Foundation, says cars hitting people are a larger issue. Like the police, she says people should be aware of who is around them while they are walking at night.

Potter says she probably would not be walking at the same time of night the attack occurred but she frequently walks in the evening.

"I still know I will walk in Park City at night without worrying about it," she says. "People have to be sensible at what times, where they’re walking."


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