Archive for Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Manhunt for suspect in Topeka assault puts area schools on alert

May 23, 2007

Authorities still are on the lookout for a man Topeka police believe sexually assaulted and attempted to murder a disabled woman in Topeka and then stole her car, which ended up in Tonganoxie last week.

A search for the man Friday caused school officials in Tonganoxie and Basehor to put their schools alert.

Tonganoxie Police Lt. Billy Adcox said this week he had no new leads on a man authorities unsuccessfully searched for Friday morning in north Tonganoxie.

"We don't know where the guy's at," Adcox said. "We've not got any calls about stolen cars or any calls of anyone resembling that suspect."

Before 4 a.m. Friday, a Tonganoxie police officer was on a routine patrol when he noticed a suspicious person in the Sonic Drive-in parking lot at U.S. 24-40 and Northstar Drive. When the officer drove through the lot, he couldn't see the person but noticed a red Buick Skylark parked on Northstar Court, just northeast of the fast food restaurant. The officer called in the vehicle's license plate to dispatch, which reported that the vehicle was stolen.

Topeka Police, as well as the Jefferson County K-9 Unit and the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office assisted Tonganoxie Police later that morning.

A K-9 unit officer put his bloodhound on the scent of an item found in the vehicle. The dog took officers east from Sonic and then north on 218th Street to Parallel. Officers searched the area, but found no sign of the suspect, whom Topeka police believe to be 40-year-old Errol Mustafa Sutton, 40, Topeka.

On Tuesday, asked whether Tonganoxie Police thought about forming a search for the man after the car was found to be stolen, Adcox said there were many factors to consider first, such who they were looking for and why.

"There was a lot of things we had to look at before we determined what our next step was," Adcox said.

The victim, who is 46, told police on May 16 that Sutton attacked her. Her vehicle was discovered missing later that day, police reports said.

According to Tonganoxie Police reports, the suspect was last seen Friday morning near 218th Street and Parallel, which is north of Tonganoxie. That's also where the dogs lost a scent of the man.

The victim was taken May 16 to Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka. Late Friday afternoon, Topeka Police Sgt. Ron Gish said that the woman had improved, but was unsure of her actual condition. She was reported out of the hospital earlier this week.

Residents notice suspicious activity

Friday morning, Tonganoxie Police also interviewed residents who live near Sonic Drive-in. One resident said he saw a man matching the suspect's description about 11 p.m. walking along the sidewalk near Sonic. As for the vehicle, another resident told police he first noticed the Skylark parked along the street Wednesday evening. The woman was attacked the morning of May 16 in the 900 block of Northwest Van Buren in north Topeka, Topeka Police Sgt. John Sanders said.

Sanders said Sutton had a history of run-ins with the law.

"He's got a criminal history, but for the most part he's just a drifter," Sanders said.

Inside the vehicle, officers found several Sonic bags. Law enforcement officials said it was possible the suspect rummaged through the restaurant's Dumpster for food.

Schools take precaution

Across the street from the restaurant, classes at Tonganoxie High School continued, but district schools were in low-level lockdown, as administrators monitored students between classes.

Adcox said a door was unlocked about 5:30 a.m. when custodians at the high school began work for the day. Officers searched the school, but found no sign of suspicious activity. Adcox said additional officers were sent to the school for precautionary measures.

"We were monitoring the schools pretty closely," Adcox said, noting that officers also made the rounds at Tonganoxie businesses, cluing merchants in on the morning's events.

Meanwhile, at the Tonganoxie School District's central office, an automated telephone system designed to keep parents informed about emergencies malfunctioned, causing a slight stir.

A message sent out to district parents was supposed to inform them of the recent events, including the district's lockdown. However, another message, that of rap music being played, was sent out instead. A second message, which sounded like wind blowing, also was sent out. A third time, however, Superintendent Richard Erickson's message made its way to parents.

Erickson said Family First Alert, an automated telephone service in California, sends out the school's messages. The Tonganoxie superintendent said the company successfully has sent out messages about school cancellations and other schedule changes throughout the school year.

"We're going to do some review with Family First Alert and identify where that problem was and make sure it doesn't happen again," Erickson said.

At Tonganoxie Elementary School, students were anticipating their annual field day, which was to be at the THS football field and surrounding areas, including VFW Park. But the lockdown postponed the event. TES principal Tammie George said the event would be rescheduled for next Thursday.

Recesses were held inside. And during passing periods between classes, school employees monitored the area for any suspicious activity.

Erickson praised the Tonganoxie Police Department in how it handled the situation, also noting that heightened security was the district's focus.

"And I think we were successful in doing that," Erickson said. "It was just frustrating that we had this happen. It's frustrating that a fugitive can cause so much havoc for our school district."

School officials in Basehor also were cautious Friday.

Like Erickson, Basehor-Linwood School District Superintendent Bob Albers sent out a message through the district's School Reach phone system. It informed all parents about 2 p.m. Friday that schools were on heightened security. The message asked parents to be concerned for their children's safety and to not leave them alone because of the possibility that a suspected rapist was in the area.

External school doors were locked and monitored and students did not go out for recess. A class picnic in City Park also was canceled for Basehor Elementary School first-graders.

Previous record?

According to the Shawnee County District Court's database, an Errol Mustafa Sutton II was charged in February on one count of aggravated battery. At an April hearing, he was sentenced to 17 months in prison, but the judge later suspended the sentence allowing Sutton to serve 12 months probation instead.

Adcox urged residents to be extremely cautious as the suspect remains at-large, and call 911 or the police department, (913) 369-3754, if they notice anything suspicious.

"Just keep an open eye," Adcox said. "If there's something suspicious in the neighborhood, we'll check them out."

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