After attacks, runners vigilant

Police say incidents are isolated but stress safety

March 29, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

Will Iberg had been running in the same part of Columbia for most of the two years since he moved there from a small town in Wisconsin. His typical route is a combination of streets and trails off Columbia Road.

The 24-year-old financial analyst never gave much thought to safety - until he was attacked in the 5700 block of Columbia Road the night of March 19.

"The reason I run there is that it's typically thought of as a safer area in Columbia," Iberg, who now lives in Elkridge, said last week. "It's got nice paths, well-lit streets. When you're running, you're focused on running and sometimes you forget about the real world."

About 9:30 p.m., Iberg had passed a group of about 10 teenagers when he noticed one of them jogging behind him. No words were exchanged, and Iberg said that he didn't feel threatened.

Suddenly, Iberg said he felt he had been punched in the lower back. He kept running before realizing that he had been stabbed with a knife.

"I thought it was a punch until I looked; it was really bloody," Iberg recalled. "When you're finishing a long run, you have so much adrenaline and endorphins going. My gut instinct was to find someone to help."

His attacker raced off and Iberg ran another block until he found a house with a light on. The resident called police. An ambulance took Iberg to Maryland Shock Trauma. He was treated and released early the next morning.

By 6:30 that morning, Iberg said, he received a call from police saying they had arrested Vernon Leroy Costley at the home of one of Costley's relatives in the 5200 block of Brook Way. Police say they recovered a knife there that they believe was used in the attack.

Costley, 19, who lives in the 7100 block of Talisman Lane, was charged with second-degree attempted murder, first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment. He is being held in the county's detention center on $300,000 bond.

Iberg said he was impressed with the work of the Police Department in catching a suspect so quickly.

"They have been very supportive and helpful," he said. "They obviously do very good work."

While Iberg and police declined to comment on the specifics of the case, a department spokeswoman said it was the result of flooding the area with detectives and officers immediately after the incident.

"It was critical to putting together the information that led to the apprehension," spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn called the incident "isolated" and said that is generally the case when it comes to attacks on joggers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts in the county.

"We've not seen anything like that recently," Llewellyn said.

Nadia Wasserman, the president of Howard County Striders, a running organization with more than 1,000 members, concurred.

"We have been very fortunate in this area," Wasserman said. "It's the only incident I've heard about."

Iberg said his daily run ranges between three and 11 miles and that he averages about 40 miles per week. A competitive runner in high school, Iberg said he participates in 5K or 10K events about once a month. He ran in the Shamrock 5K in Baltimore four days before the attack.

The incident has not changed Iberg's feeling about living in Columbia, though the community might represent a departure in many ways from his previous home in Stevens Point, Wis. The town of about 25,000 is two hours north of the state capital, Madison.

"I still feel Howard County is relatively safe," he said. "There's not a place where you can say this can't happen to you."

Less than two days after Iberg was stabbed, a middle-age couple was attacked while jogging in their neighborhood in Lansdowne, Va. William Bennett, a highly decorated former military officer, was beaten to death, and his wife, Cynthia, a former Army captain, remains in critical condition, according to news reports. There have been no arrests.

Iberg said he knows he is lucky. He was back to work Monday and said he is recovering quickly. He credits the medical treatment he received almost immediately after it happened.

"It feels good, and I think it is in large part to the emergency medical staff," Iberg said. "Shock Trauma was outstanding. I really do believe and from what they told me, it could have been a lot worse."

Getting back out into his running routine will take a little more work.

"This is new ground for me; I don't know how it's going to play out," he said. "Right now, I'm focused on getting back out and running."

As for changing his route, Iberg said his options are limited.

"Unfortunately, that stretch tends to be at the end of all my runs because my girlfriend's apartment is right there," he said. "As long as she's living in her apartment there, I'll still run those streets."

running safety

* Don't run alone

* Do not take the same path every day

* Do not use headphones or iPods

* Be aware of your surroundings

* Take a cell phone

* Tell someone where you are going and how long you should be out

Source: Howard County Striders, Howard County Police Department

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