Update: The story was changed to reflect the correct location of a murder on a Dallas trail in 2015.
For 14 years, Paula Watkins walked the Trinity Trails with her dogs without a worry in the world.
That has changed.
After learning that a naked man attacked a female jogger on the trails in September, Watkins is buying a Taser.
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“I asked around about buying a gun or mace, but I was convinced that a Taser would be better,” Watkins said one recent afternoon as she walked the trails with her dog, Bella Jo, and her friend, Brandi Guggenheim of Aledo.
Guggenheim had not heard about the attack, but she quickly noted she would never walk the trials alone.
“I’ll always have someone with me,” Guggenheim said.
The Trinity Trails extend through Fort Worth for 72 miles along the Trinity River. Made for hikers, bikers, runners and horseback riders, they connect major areas such as downtown, the TCU/Fort Worth Zoo area and Clearfork.
The sexual assault on Sept. 16 was unusual, according to both a yearly report to the City Council this week and a four-year review of crimes in the busiest section, obtained by the Star-Telegram through an open records request. By comparison, Dallas’ Katy Trails have had a string of armed robberies and a murder over the past two years.
In the report to the mayor and council this week, police said they logged 49 offenses from Sept. 25, 2016, to Sept. 27 of this year along all 72 miles of the Trinity Trails. The most frequent locations were in the parking lots along East Northside Drive and in Trinity Park.
“Crime can happen anywhere, even in a public common area that is relatively undisturbed by criminal activity,” Fort Worth police spokesman Brad Perez said in a email. “However, we will always ask our citizens to be aware of their surroundings and take precautionary measures when needed at any location.”
Of the 49 offenses, police reported 21 vehicle burglaries, nine vandalisms, five robberies, five narcotics violations, three assaults, three alcohol violations and three crimes listed as “other.”
Police said signs have been installed in key locations including trailheads and parking lots encouraging visitors to lock cars, take keys and hide belongings.
In January, the Tarrant Regional Water District donated eight off-road motorcycles to the police department to patrol the trails. Motorcycle officers patrol the trails about 40 hours per week.
In addition, police reported to the mayor and council members that mounted patrols and bicycle officers are on the trails several days a week. A group of Citizens on Patrol ride the trails on bicycles, police said.
“The usage of the trail just continues to grow,” Mayor Betsy Price said. “We may need to look at some dedicated bike officers for the full length of the trail.”
Disturbances, few major crimes
The Star-Telegram review, which covers only the busiest portion of the trails — from Main Street in downtown Fort Worth to near The Shops at Clearfork — shows 24 to 47 crimes per year along that segment, which also is the area where a naked man sexually assaulted a woman in September:
▪ 2013: 47 calls, with disturbances and burglaries topping the list.
▪ 2014: 45 calls, mostly disturbances, which could be loud music, other noise disturbances, people arguing or minor confrontations
▪ 2015: 38 calls, mostly disturbances
▪ 2016: 24, again, mostly disturbances and animal calls
The few felonies through the years have included illegal possession of a weapon, robbery and the September sexual assault, according to statistics.
Criminals weren’t choosy about time. The earliest call police responded to was at 6:41 a.m. in April 2015, and the latest was at 11:42 p.m. in August 2014.
The female jogger was attacked about 6:15 p.m. Sept. 16, and no one has been arrested in that case.
The woman turned around, but the suspect got up, chased her down and assaulted her, police said. She escaped and ran to the nearby Overton Woods subdivision, where she called police.
A police report listed the incident as a sexual assault.
Police described the suspect as white, about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with a thin build. He has short brown hair and no body hair. Detectives believe him to be 16- to 19 years-old.
For the most part, visitors on the Trinity Trails interviewed by the Star-Telegram said they still feel safe.
“I’m not going to stop coming here,” said Watkins, who has come to know several of the homeless people she has encountered.
On the other hand, violent crimes including indecency with a child, muggings, armed robberies and a murder have happened along the Katy Trail, a 3.5-mile trail system north of downtown Dallas popular with joggers, inline skaters and bicyclists. The trail is in the Uptown and Oak Lawn areas.
In June, a Cedar Hill man was arrested on the trail and charged with indecency with a child, according to television news reports.
The Katy Trail had a series of armed robberies in 2015 and 2016 — including as many as five in one week in November 2015. Dallas police made arrests in those cases. More police patrols and extra lighting were added to the trail.
At another Dallas trail in 2015, a former Texas A&M football star armed with a machete is accused of hacking a jogger to death along the White Rock Creek Trail as a passing cyclist witnessed it.
Thomas Johnson, who was Skyline High School standout, was found incompetent in 2016 and sent to the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon.
Family and friends told WFAA-TV that Johnson, a diagnosed schizophrenic, wasn’t in his right mind when he killed jogger Dave Stevens. Johnson, 21, faced a murder charge in the Oct. 12 killing of the 53-year-old Stevens as he jogged along the White Rock Trail.
Staff writer Sandra Baker contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.