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Assault investigations ongoing

Police, deputies have identified suspects in 2 of 3 recent cases

— Police and deputies have identified suspects in two of the three recent reports of sexual assault or attempted assaults in the Steamboat Springs area. Local law enforcement officials maintain that there is no reason to believe the incidents are related.

Steamboat Springs Police Department officers are investigating two reports of sexual assault that happened within a day of one another. One was a reported attempted assault in a River Road home, and the other was a reported rape at a downtown street corner.

Capt. Joel Rae said that on Oct. 20, a woman called police at 7:33 p.m. to report that a man had knocked on the door of her River Road home offering to sell tortillas.

The woman invited the man into the house and told officers that after she purchased the tortillas, the man approached her and shoved her to the ground.

The woman said she kicked the man in the groin, and he left the house. Officers said the woman didn't suffer any injuries as a result of the incident.

The woman told officers she had seen tortilla sellers in the neighborhood before but that she did not know whether the man was associated with that group.

Police found the suspect described by the woman, a stocky Hispanic man in his early 30s, and questioned him and a witness in the days after the reported attack.

"He has been thoroughly interviewed, along with another witness, and at this point we will probably not be moving forward with any criminal charges due to conflicting information between the victim and the suspect, and possible declination to prosecute from the DA's Office," Rae said Thursday.

He said that the decision to not press charges was a mutual decision between the police department and the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office. Rae said the case was "going to be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt."

In the second case, a woman reported that she was raped at about 1 a.m. Oct. 21 at the corner of 11th and Oak streets. Police sent forensic evidence from that case to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for analysis. Police said they don't have any suspects, and the victim was unable to provide a description of her attacker.

Police Detective Capt. Bob DelValle said police could not reveal what evidence was sent to CBI. Police are considering the possibility that the Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 cases are related, but DelValle said detectives have found nothing that links the two.

"There is some consideration that there could be some connection between the two, but we don't have any hard facts to confirm that, just the timing," he said.

A third incident, involving a juvenile, was reported in mid-September to the Routt County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff's Office spokeswoman and evidence technician Mellisa Baumgartner said the suspect in the reported sexual assault is not a stranger to the victim. She said deputies are investigating the case but do not think it is related to the attacks reported to the police department.

Baumgartner said deputies have been in contact with the suspect. Because the case involves a juvenile and because deputies have not made any arrests, they declined to provide any additional information about the incident. The case was reported through the Routt County Department of Human Services, and it is unknown where in Routt County the reported assault took place.

According to police, those three incidents are the only reported cases of sexual assault in the past two months.

Stranger assaults rare

DelValle said it's unusual for Steamboat Springs police to have two cases of sexual assaults by strangers.

"When you have a stranger situation, that's not typical of what we experience," he said. "Most of the situations we experience are non-stranger."

A non-stranger case is when "somebody went home with somebody … and things didn't go according to at least one of the person's plans," DelValle said.

Acknowledging the rumors, blog posts and text messages that are making their way through town, Rae said basic precautions are the best way to stay safe.

"We don't have any reason to believe that women are in danger of a serial rapist at large in Steamboat. They are two isolated incidents," he said. "We're taking it seriously, and that's not to discount what women should do to protect themselves."

Rae said men and women should travel with friends when walking at night, be aware of their surroundings and be prepared to defend themselves in the event of an incident.