Originally created 10/15/00

Teen-ager shares survival story



Chrisilee Barton doesn't regret what happened Tuesday morning, when a slick-talking stranger nearly ended her life on a bedroom floor.

For her, the fresh wounds on her neck, arms and fingers helped put an end to what authorities say was a series of homicides plaguing metro Augusta for the past year.

It was the work of God, she says.

"It was the good Lord's will that he got caught," the slender, sandy-blond 18-year-old said. "I hate that he killed so many females before he got caught. I wish it had happened sooner."

Ms. Barton, who lives with her mother in a duplex off Peach Orchard Road, wept as she discussed the horrid attack with a reporter Saturday. While The Augusta Chronicle's policy is not to publish the identities of rape victims, Ms. Barton wished to share her story and be photographed.

She is the only known survivor of a man police say attacked several women on both sides of the Savannah River. After Ms. Barton recovered and worked closely with investigators, Reinaldo J. Rivera was found in a Clearwater motel room with his wrists slit early Thursday.

Police say they already have linked Mr. Rivera, 37, a tire inspector who lived outside North Augusta before his capture, to four killings in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties. Police sources have said Mr. Rivera was trying to kill himself in the motel room.

"The good Lord wasn't going to let that man get away that easy," Ms.

Barton said.

While she didn't know Sgt. Marni Glista, who was fatally assaulted in west Augusta last summer, Ms. Barton said she attended Leavelle McCampbell Middle School with Melissa Dingess, whose body was recovered late Friday, and her cousin once dated Tiffaney Shereese Wilson, who was found by hunters in Aiken County last year.

Had she died from the attack, she might not have been the last victim, Ms. Barton acknowledged.

"I don't feel like a hero," she said. "I just wish those other girls had had the chance I did.

"I just hope those girls are at rest," she added.

As she had recounted her attack to investigators, Ms. Barton told of how she met a Hispanic man in the parking lot of Huddle House in Belvedere. She works for a wall board company, and had gone there to meet her boss for lunch, she said.

As she was leaving the parking lot, a man driving a teal-green Honda pulled in beside her and asked for directions to Washington Road. He also asked her questions about the club scene in that area, she said.

Even in the parking lot, Ms. Barton said, she knew something was wrong. He claimed to have owned an escort service and modeling agency, but didn't have business cards. He wanted to take her picture, but she saw no camera.

For some reason, it just didn't click.

"I knew he wasn't what he said he was, but for some reason I went along with it," she said. "I can't tell you why."

She agreed to lead him to her home in south Augusta. He wanted to take pictures of her for $150, and it could lead to more gigs when he opened a modeling business in the Augusta area, she said he told her.

"He offered me a modeling career, and I've always been told I could be a model," Ms. Barton said.

When they arrived at her home, she let him into the humble, two-bedroom house on Circular Drive. The two were alone. Ms. Barton's mother and her mother's boyfriend were out at the time.

While she went into a bedroom and changed, she could hear him fumbling around in the kitchen.

He came into the room and told her where to sit and how to pose, she said. Still, she saw no camera. It was then he attacked her, locking his arm around her neck.

"I said, `I knew you were going to do this. I knew it,"' she said.

As he raped her, he knocked her unconscious. She awoke several times during the assault, but each time he would knock her out again, she said. He stabbed her three times in the throat, apparently with a plastic-handled steak knife he took from the kitchen.

All along, she thought about a pistol kept in a nearby cabinet, but she was afraid it would wind up in her attacker's hands, she said.

She was limp when the man finally left the house.

"I honestly think that he thought I was dead. But it was like the good Lord kept touching me, giving me life," she said.

It was hours before she crawled from the bedroom to the living room, where she reached a phone. Her call touched off a police investigation and a media frenzy that ultimately led to Mr. Rivera's arrest.

A description of the vehicle seen leaving the house by a neighbor was released to media, and responses to that helped lead authorities to the suspect.

On Saturday, Mr. Rivera was cooperating with police as they uncovered a fourth body in Grovetown.

Without Ms. Barton, police still might be searching for clues and waiting for tests results in what they had thought were unrelated killings and disappearances of young, attractive white women with blondish-colored hair.

"There is a God. I'm glad that I prayed," said Maj. Ken Autry, head of criminal investigations for Richmond County Sheriff's Department. "We were just so fortunate that she lived.

"Without her, without the witness, without the media, without the tipsters, we wouldn't have been anywhere."

Ms. Barton said she is healing physically, and in time, she will heal emotionally. She hopes the killer pays for his crimes with his life, she said.

"There isn't anything bad enough for him," she said. "There's no way to give him justice."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or jedwards92@hotmail.com.