Attack on Georgia's Silver Comet Trail raises security concerns

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ATLANTA — A vicious attack on a female jogger is fueling discussion of safety on the nation’s longest paved trail, which stretches more than 90 miles from Atlanta’s northwest suburbs to Anniston, Ala.

The Silver Comet Trail starts in Smyrna, Ga., and extends 61.5 miles to the Alabama line. A woman was beaten on the trail last week, eight years after a bicyclist was killed.  BOB ANDRES/ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOB ANDRES/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Silver Comet Trail starts in Smyrna, Ga., and extends 61.5 miles to the Alabama line. A woman was beaten on the trail last week, eight years after a bicyclist was killed.

Along the Georgia section of the path, known as the Silver Comet Trail, police say the 42-year-old woman was lapsing in and out of consciousness when she was found by a passing bicyclist in the early evening Tuesday. No arrests have been made.

Last week’s attack happened not far from the spot where bicyclist Jennifer Ewing of Sandy Springs was ambushed during a bike ride along the trail in summer 2006. Michael Ledford was convicted of murdering her and is now on Georgia’s death row.

“Anything they do out there would be better than nothing,” said Ewing’s sister, Paige Slocumb of Macon.

The Silver Comet passes through remote areas of the Georgia countryside, and a Web site for trail visitors warns that cellphone coverage is spotty in some areas.

“My sister was at Mile Marker 17 and there’s not a thing out there,” Slocumb said.

“Emergency 911 call boxes would probably be a real good idea,” she said. “They have those all over college campuses. Out in the less populated areas, it would be good to have a lifeline if your phone isn’t working.”

Unlike Atlanta’s BeltLine trail, which includes a network of security cameras, there are no cameras on vast sections of the Silver Comet Trail as it crosses through Cobb, Paulding and Polk counties.

In Paulding County, the site of last week’s attack and the 2006 slaying, there are cameras at a couple of the trailheads, said Michael Justice, the director the Paulding County Parks and Recreation Department.

Detectives are reviewing footage from those cameras as part of their investigation into last week’s attack, Paulding County sheriff’s Cpl. Ashley Henson said. Officials now plan to consider whether additional cameras are needed, Paulding County Commission Chairman David Austin said.

An estimated 2 million visitors use the 61.5-mile Silver Comet Trail in Georgia each year, said Ed McBrayer, the executive director of the PATH Foundation that helps develop it. At the Alabama state line, the path becomes known as the Chief Ladiga Trail and extends another 33 miles to Anniston.

“I don’t know how you can necessarily keep everybody safe by installing cameras all over the world, including the Silver Comet Trail. I’m not sure that’s the answer,” McBrayer said.

After Ewing was killed, her family began a nonprofit, Safe Alone Inc., and Slocumb has taught self-defense courses for women across Georgia. She encourages people on the trail to run with a partner.

Another key point about safety is that “something is better than nothing,” she said.

“At the very least, pepper spray is a really good idea,” she said. “Carrying a stick is better than running with nothing but your iPod.”


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