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Gorge crime spree ongoing

Sexual assault in Cascade Locks the most recent gorge case

An armed robbery and sexual assault near Cascade Locks last week appears to continue a string of Columbia Gorge incidents that has multiple law enforcement agencies on high alert.

The latest incident fitting a similar pattern and suspect profile occurred Friday, April 18, off Interstate 84 near Cascade Locks, Hood River Sheriff's officials reported. An adult male approached a couple sitting in a vehicle around 11:20 p.m. Flashing a pistol, he demanded money and personal items before sexually assaulting the female.

The couple described the man as stocky, about 5-feet, 4-inches tall, a description similar to that in six other incidents since another couple was robbed at Vista House on Nov. 3. As in other incidents reported between The Dalles and Corbett, the man wore a mask and drove a dark-colored SUV or pickup truck with a canopy.

Since a Jan. 13 robbery at the Women's Forum Viewpoint, Multnomah County Sheriff's officials have coordinated with agencies including Oregon State Police, Hood River and Wasco county sheriff's offices and The Dalles Police Department to investigate similar cases. Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Gullberg said agency investigators are sharing leads on incidents they believe to be connected.

'There's quite a few similarities,' he said. 'Too many to discount the possibility that these are connected.'

Until the suspect is apprehended, Hood River police are asking that drivers not pull off the interstate to stop during the night.

Several recent gorge crimes involved a lone gunman, but two cars were present at the Women's Forum incident. A suspect forced the couple to drive toward Larch Mountain while another car followed. The masked man's description is consistent among the crimes, but police aren't ruling out multiple suspects working together.

'There is a small number of people committing similar crimes,' Gullberg said, adding the investigation has 'ramped up a bit' in the past week or so. 'We're looking for at least two people. We have some decent leads.'

Commonly associated with car break-ins, often at quiet trailhead parking lots, the gorge typically sees an increase in crime as warm weather attracts more tourists and local visitors. While acknowledging the need for greater vigilance, sheriff's officials emphasize their message to the public remains the same.

'Our public safety message is consistent,' Gullberg said. 'Be aware of your surroundings. Be mindful. Report any suspicious activity immediately.'

Agencies patrolling different parts of the gorge are working together in a variety of ways, including exchanging notes and information in meetings and databases, following up on leads and looking for individuals and vehicles that meet descriptions provided by victims.

Despite the string of gorge crimes, officers don't want to discourage people from enjoying the area's scenic and recreational opportunities.

'It certainly is safe to go to scenic overlooks and state parks,' Gullberg said. 'We're not trying to scare folks from the area.'

Anyone who sees even the slightest suspicious activity is asked to call 9-1-1 or the closest local law enforcement agency. The Multnomah County Sheriff's office can be reached at 503-823-3333.