Bloomingdale runners more cautious after abduction attempt
Lindsey Natale typically runs in the morning before work. Alone.
Since an incident last week when a man tried to grab an 18-year-old jogger in broad daylight, Natale said she's been rethinking her routine.
She typically runs in the same area where Frank Emmanuel Zuniga, 27, of Valrico, allegedly tried to grab a runner on May 23 near Nature's Way and Elton Place about 10:30 a.m.
After watching two women and circling the area, Zuniga reportedly jumped out of the bushes and grabbed one of them by her arm. When she screamed, he released her and ran to a white pickup truck. Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies arrested Zuniga about 3:30 p.m. the same day.
“A lot of people run in that area,” said Natale who typically runs down Culbreath and turns onto Nature's Way, three to five times a week. “I actually had been running before work, so I pretty much run in the dark and it kind of freaked me out a little bit.
“I never thought anything of it. It's a safe area in a school zone,” Natale said. “But, that happened in broad daylight, I was kind of skeptical about my time.”
Natale said she is considering changing the time she runs, maybe even investing in a treadmill.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said Zuniga is also a suspect in another incident on Nature's Way on May 11 when a man grabbed a runner's buttocks. But the sheriff's office has not received calls from anyone else reporting any related incidents, she said.
In the May 23 incident, Zuniga is charged with false imprisonment and battery.
Patricia Rossie, vice president of the Brandon Running Association, said her group hosts about six running groups every week and the Nature's Way area is quite popular.
“There were eight of us running this morning around that same subdivision,” she said earlier this week.
“My concern is that the two ladies did everything right, running in pairs and in the middle of the day,” Rossie said. “You can only do what you can do to safeguard yourself. Running in a group is very helpful. Joining a running group has a huge advantage.”
Some female runners carry pepper spray, Rossie said.
“As women, we tend to be more cautious,” she said. “You either want to run in an area where there is high visibility, it's lit up or you wear a headlight and you are carrying something that is going to protect you.
“Unfortunately, things like this are not unheard of.”
Elton Kostecka, past president of the running association, said he has never heard of any attempted abductions or assaults on runners in the area, though over the years, some runners in the Bloomingdale area have been “flashed.”
“Bloomingdale is absolutely a popular area because there is a park with bathrooms and water and no major roads to cross,” he said. “It's a nice area to run.
“The way things are today, you just have to be careful wherever you go,” Kostecka said. “There was a message passed to the group and it applies to men and women, alike. Whenever you are out running, just be careful and be aware of your surroundings. Don't be fearful, just be watchful.”