The 42-year-old woman, identified in area media reports as Tina Waddell, was airlifted to Kennestone Hospital after a biker discovered her lying on the ground just outside the woods Tuesday evening.
Police say the assault occurred at about mile marker 19.58 — a little more than two and a half miles from the area where Jennifer Ewing was killed July 25, 2006. Cpl. Ashley Henson, spokesman for the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office, said the attack began on the bridge that spans Academy Drive.
Henson said detectives believe the victim’s attacker dragged her into the wooded area near the bridge and beat her.
The victim “somehow managed” to pull herself out of the woods toward the trail after her attacker left her, Henson said.
The biker discovered the woman, who was “going in and out of consciousness,” at about 6:42 p.m. Tuesday and called police, Henson said.
According to police, the woman was “severely beaten about the head and face” and had lost consciousness during parts of the attack. Detectives said they found no “obvious signs of sexual assault” in their preliminary investigation.
“Since the attack was so violent and her injuries were so severe, the victim could only indicate that a white male suspect with dark hair attacked her,” Henson said of the assailant, who he said stole a cellphone and set of keys from her. He noted the woman was walking east toward Hiram when the assault began.
Memories of a murder
Detectives from the Paulding Sheriff’s Office are still piecing together details of the incident, which reminded many of Ewing’s highly-publicized murder. Those who knew the Sandy Springs mother of three said she was an avid cyclist who took long rides on the trail several times a week. After her husband reported her missing the night she failed to return from her routine ride, police and volunteers launched a search party that ultimately led them to Ewing’s body. An autopsy revealed Ewing was killed by blunt force trauma to the head and chest — a result of beatings, prosecutors said — and had been sexually assaulted in the attack that led to her death.
Police arrested and charged Michael Ledford of Hiram, a convicted sex offender, with murder, kidnapping, aggravated sodomy, aggravated battery and aggravated assault just days after Ewing disappeared. In 2009, Ledford was convicted on those charges and sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Trail frequenters not surprised
Linda Turnipseed, a Fulton County Schools police officer who lives in Dallas, said she was not surprised when she learned of Tuesday’s incident.
She and her friend, Cory Spencer, who also lives in Dallas, said they walk the trail about three times a week and spent Wednesday morning walking along the same stretch where the woman was attacked the night before. “I see a lot of women out here walking by themselves. Even in the daytime, I think they should not do that. It’s dangerous,” Turnipseed said. “If you’re by yourself, like right now, and the trail is isolated, and there’s a predator out here in the day time and nobody’s on the trail, you can be taken.”
Turnipseed said she is not afraid to spend time on the trail because she carries her gun in her bag when she heads out for a walk.
She said such attacks have become so commonplace lone walkers should always be on high alert.
“It’s not surprising when it happens any place because nowadays, it’s just so much happening,” Turnipseed said. “We have people that are out to do harm to other people, and they look for areas that are remote that they can take advantage of somebody that they can overpower.”
Bud Marker, who lives in Dallas, said he usually carries a weapon — whether it be a stick or a gun — with him when he takes his regular walks on the trail.
Marker said he typically hits the trail in the evening, around the time the woman was discovered, but said he has opted to start his walks earlier as the days have grown shorter.
“Usually, there’s people around,” he said of trail activity on a typical weekday evening. “You see them on the path. It’s not like you’re normally completely isolated.”
Police give safety tips
The 61.5 miles of the Silver Comet Trail run from Smyrna to the Alabama border, with 12.8 of them falling inside Cobb County lines. Robert Quigley, spokesman for Cobb County, said 1.8 million visitors visit the county’s section of the Silver Comet trail every year. He said the most popular activity on the trail is bicycling.
Sgt. Dana Pierce, Cobb police spokesman, said the county’s Ranger Unit reported an assault about six and a half years ago in which a middle-aged man was attacked “by some kids” while riding his bicycle between Anderson Mill and Austell roads.
The man received minor injuries and the suspects were later caught, Pierce said.
Pierce said the county police department recommends letting a friend or family member know how long you’ll be on the trail if you plan to hike alone.
Walkers should carry a cellphone in case of emergency and should keep identification on their person, Pierce added.