What started as a routine jog down the South Lawrence Trafficway bike path Wednesday afternoon ended with two Lawrence teenagers possibly saving a woman’s life.
“I would never imagine something like this would happen here,” 19-year-old Nathaniel Mehl said. “It was pretty emotionally scarring to see what he was doing to her.”
Mehl and a friend, 18-year-old Aidan Waugh, were running on the paved path between the YSI fields and the Clinton Lake Dam when they came across a man brutally attacking and stabbing a 23-year-old woman.
“I was so unprepared to see what we saw in broad daylight,” Waugh said. “You could see this guy’s arms flailing. She was bleeding everywhere and screaming for help.”
Police said the 30-year-old man, who was armed with a knife, grabbed the woman off her bike around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, attempted to rape her and stabbed her during the course of the attack.
Mehl and Waugh described the knife as a switchblade and said it appeared the woman’s face had been severely beaten. The teens said she had cuts all over her body and on her hands from attempting to grab the knife while trying to fight back.
She was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital with what police described to be “serious but nonlife-threatening injuries.”
The two good Samaritans said despite the fact that the man was armed with a knife, they immediately sprang into action. Both men charged the suspect, who ran from the scene, but returned, kicking the victim in the head, before fleeing up the hill toward the treeline.
Waugh said he tended to the victim while his friend chased after the suspect.
“I was just so angry,” Mehl said. “I’ve never seen something like that in my entire life. I was just so angry at the guy that I chased him, but I lost sight of him.”
The two called police using a cell phone that the victim had.
Police caught the suspect after a brief manhunt in the area. He was booked into the Douglas County Jail on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, attempted rape, sexual battery and criminal use of a weapon.
Lawrence police spokesman Sgt. Bill Cory said the two teens who interupted the attack went above and beyond the call of duty.
“It was great for her that these two gentlemen were there at that time and were able to intercede on her behalf,” Cory said. “Had they not been there, it might have been a very different outcome.”
Cory said it appears the suspect picked his victim at random.
“(He) traveled to the secluded area of the bike path with the intent to target a female victim,” Cory said. “The victim was not known to the suspect and was apparently chosen at random at the location.”
The course of the investigation revealed that the suspect also may have been involved in a similar incident just one day earlier.
Police said a man followed a 21-year-old woman who was walking in the 1600 block of University Drive around 3:35 p.m. Tuesday. When the man caught up to the woman, police said, he groped her breast and then fled the area.
The victim came forward and reported the incident after seeing media coverage of the attack on the bike path.
Police also believe the man was involved in an incident on April 15. A 22-year-old Lawrence woman reported that she was walking near Ninth and Mississippi streets around 9:40 p.m. when a man approached her and touched her inappropriately.
Cory said all three incidents are still under investigation.
The suspect has not yet been formally charged. According to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, he will make his first court appearance Friday afternoon.
As for Waugh and Mehl, they don’t consider themselves heroes. They said instincts just took over.
“I’d really like to think that anyone in that same situation would do the same thing,” Waugh said.