Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – A woman was raped by two men the evening of Monday, July 5 in the wooded area between the Community Park softball field and U.S. Highway 101.
A suspect was arrested within minutes, and another is being sought.
Kevin Scott Walker, 37, of Eureka, was booked into the Humboldt County Jail on a charge of rape.
The second perpetrator is described as a white or Indian male adult in his early twenties with dark, shoulder-length hair and thin facial hair. He was last seen wearing a dark-colored jacket.
The attack took place just footsteps away from a softball field where players were wrapping up an evening game. About 600 people had attended the event, unaware of the violence taking place just out of view among the trees at the field’s edge.
Richard Marks, president of the Mad River Softball Association, was present for the incident’s aftermath, and assisted in the response. He wrote an account on his Samoa Softball blog.
With the field lights just turned off just after 10 p.m., Marks and other ball players were out in the parking lot talking when a young woman approached them.
“Out of the dark came a young lady who asked one of our umps for a cell phone so she could call her dad and tell him she was raped!” Marks wrote. “One of the lady players in the league who is a trained nurse tended to the upset young lady until the Arcata officers showed up within minutes.”
On hearing that the assailant might still be in the nearby woods, Marks turned the field lights back on while Field Rep Chris Avelar and Umpires Eli Woodward and Mike Manacho scrambled over to the wooded area to search for the suspect.
“I know the area decently because I chase balls there all the time,” Avelar said. In a litter-strewn clearing perhaps 30 feet into the trees, they located Walker. He refused to come with them out of the woods.
Woodward said Walker’s behavior was erratic, and, he believes, intentionally deceptive. “Initially, he was upright and talking to us bright-eyed and awake,” Woodward said. “Then he went into his act.”
Woodward left Walker momentarily and followed the trail toward the freeway to look for another suspect, but didn’t locate anyone. On returning to the clearing, he said Walker had curled up on the ground and partially concealed himself under low tree branches. “I tripped over his legs,” Woodward said.
When police arrived at the parking lot, the ball players led officers over to the wooded area, and Walker was arrested without incident. By then, he was behaving extremely erratically, as though delusional.
On being led to an ambulance, Marks said that “he started spitting on the EMT and pissing all over. He started yelling, ‘Don’t you know who my father is? He is going to kill you!’ Then he started chanting loudly, ‘Beelzebub, Beelzebub, Beelzebub, Beelzebub!’”
“The EMT was pretty upset, because he got peed on and spit on,” Marks said. Walker’s mouth was then wrapped to prevent him from spitting.
“I told the cops I thought he was just playing possum,” Woodward said.
Marks said the victim, initially calm, had become hysterical, attempting to kick out the windows of the APD car in which she had been placed. She was eventually taken to Mad River Community Hospital for treatment.
The witness accounts include several horrifying details, with suggestions that there may be more to the story than police have so far been able to verify.
Woodward said the victim was shaken, but not distraught when she first appeared in the parking lot and asked to borrow a cell phone. Avelar described her as “kind of crying.”
Woodward said her face bore a fresh red handprint, the fingers clearly outlined on her cheek, apparently from one of the rapists clamping his hand over her mouth to keep her silent during the attack.
APD Sgt. Todd Dokweiler said the rape survivor’s family lives in Eureka. Woodward said she called her father on the borrowed cell phone. Witnesses said she told him she had been raped and that it sounded like he told her to take a cab home. She said that she couldn’t, because her boyfriend had robbed her.
“She told her dad that her boyfriend had left her high and dry and stolen her money,” Woodward said.
Several of those present report hearing the victim mention three men, not two, the third being the boyfriend. Some mentioned seeing two other men, not just the one outstanding suspect, leaving Walker behind in the wooded area and escaping via the trail that leads up to Seventh Street.
“She said her boyfriend and the two guys were friends,” Avelar said.
Dokweiler confirmed that the victim initially mentioned three men. “Within a few minutes, she recanted that,” he said.
He said the woman had become acquainted with Walker downtown earlier in the day. “That’s why she could identify him,” he said.
That night, she may have encountered Walker and the other suspect along Seventh Street. The three then descended into the wooded area. “She went in there willingly,” Dokweiler said.
Walker is offering no assistance in identifying the other suspect. “he isn’t talking to us,” Dokweiler said.
A grungy greenspace
The wooded area is a greenspace buffer between the Community Park and the freeway. It was labeled a “wildlife sanctuary” on the original plans for the park complex, though has proven popular as a campground for urban travelers, with heavy day use as a party spot.
As such, the area is routinely trashed, with City personnel clearing out the usual mounds of garbage associated with campsites. That, Dokweiler said, has diminished somewhat with the restoration of Arcata’s two park rangers.
“Those areas are not the problem they once were,” Dokweiler said. “The rangers go in there mornings and evenings.”
But, he noted, “It’s still a spot that provides concealment.” During the day, people do use the area to drink beer and smoke marijuana.
The area shows evidence of frequent use by travelers, and is strewn with the same types of garbage found in Community Forest and Marsh campsites. Beer cans, alcohol bottles, food wrappers, containers and soggy clothing litter the periphery of the clearing where Walker was located. A discarded cardboard sign reads, “ARCATA 101N PLEASE HELP.” A dusty, unopened can of tuna rests under a branch.
Walker’s prior incident
According to the online archives of Eureka’s Times-Standard newspaper, Walker pleaded guilty in 2008 to felony assault in Trinidad along with 18-year-old Collin Roczey, after witnesses reported the two holding another man down, slamming his head on the ground, hitting him with a metal pipe and stepping on his face while shouting racial slurs. Police Chief Ken Thrallkill said that the two had sodomized the man prior to the beating.
Walker and Roczey were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, sexual assault and kidnapping, but pleaded guilty to the assault charge in a plea deal. The incident was initially prosecuted as a hate crime, but that and the sexual assault charge were dropped because the victim, a traveling fisherman, couldn’t be located.
The two were sentenced Wednesday to three years probation with no additional time in jail, plus 300 hours of community service.
‘Two sides of the world’
Days afterward, some of those who aided the unknown rape survivor are still dealing with issues of their own following the event.
“I just can’t believe this was happening while we were playing,” Woodward said, shaking his head.
“It’s unnerving,” Marks said. “People were recreating and right behind us is humanity at its worst. It’s two sides of the world.”
On his blog, Marks wrote that “This whole thing was like in slow motion and surreal. What is going on in our world, when this kind of evil is so close to real life? Just a bunch of softballers having fun and playing ball after work within feet of druggies doing what they do, making life hell on others.”
He credited Arcata Police and Arcata Fire for their quick response, and his fellow players for wading into the woods to capture Walker.
“Right now, my heroes are my field rep and the umpires who ran out there and detained him.”