2 women attacked hours apart in Avondale

Runner, woman watering lawn both punched on St. Johns Avenue Tuesday morning

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two women were attacked early Tuesday morning on St. Johns Avenue in the city's Avondale neighborhood, according to Jacksonville Sheriff's Office reports. 

A woman was punched in the face while she was running just after 4 a.m. on St. Johns Avenue.

Fewer than two hours later, about a half-mile away, another woman was punched in the face while she was watering her yard.

Police said they're trying to learn if the attacks are connected and find the culprit. 

Shayla Spinner told News4Jax that she has minor injuries after the attack. Spinner said she was on her morning run and had stopped to stretch at a bus stop bench when she heard a man, who was talking on the phone, approaching her.

She said she got up and ran about 30 yards before the man caught up with her.

"He called out, I think, 'You dropped something,'" Spinner said. "I knew I hadn't dropped anything. I said, 'I don't think so.' And I went running on."

The next thing she knew, Spinner said, she heard running feet and got nervous, so she ran into the middle of St. Johns Avenue.

"Before I even had a chance to turn my head or see which way to go or say anything, he comes running at me, pounds me here, knocks me to the ground. I roll over and he clocked me on this side here and then he runs away," Spinner said. 

Spinner has injuries on her hands, back and knee from the fall, as well as on her face.

She filed a police report with JSO. "I observed bruising and swelling on both sides of the victim's face, and scrapes on her knees from the fall," the officer wrote.

Spinner was running alone because her boyfriend had just run back home to get his bike.

"I was too complacent and thinking because I was near my own home, around things I'm familiar with, I was safe. And I was not. And I won't even run at all by myself anymore. That was not a good choice," Spinner said. "I'm a middle-aged lady. Not that you should ever hit anyone, but seriously? Why some defenseless person?"

Spinner described her attacker as a 5-foot-7 white man in his 30s, weighing about 140 pounds and wearing a light T-shirt, black or dark jeans and possibly high-top sneakers.

VIDEO: 2 women attacked in Avondale

Avondale businesses will be checking their surveillance video to see if the incident was captured on camera. The owner of Pie Ale House, which is a block away from the attack, said the business will be putting up security cameras.

"I will do it. I will do it because I don't want to see anything happen in my area. I've been here almost 40 years, I don't see anything like that. (It's) pretty much quiet and a good area," said Al Orhan, owner of Pie Ale House.

Anyone with information is asked to anonymously call Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS. 

How runners can protect themselves

Safety experts gave News4Jax tips Tuesday on how runners can protect themselves, especially when it's dark outside.

Although it's hot this time of year, running in the dark, especially alone, is never a good idea, said News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith.

"I would highly recommend if you're going to do your jogging when it's dark out, to run in a well-lit area on a main street. Also, run with someone else," Smith said. 

Smith also gave advice on what runners should do if someone approaches them.

"It's best to avoid them as best as you can. That means running a little faster to get away from them, making some type of noise. You don't want to stop and engage. Then they could try to grab you or try to get you inside (a) vehicle," Smith said.

Smith recommends avoiding all distractions if running alone: Don't wear headphones and bring a cellphone.

Self-defense expert Gary Belson said even a few seconds alone is enough time for a predator to attack, especially when it's dark. 

"Have someone else with you, not just yourself, because it's tougher to take down two than it is one," Belson said.

He also recommended that women always carry pepper spray, and not be afraid to threaten someone with it. 

"I simply say, you can be aware of your surroundings. And if something doesn't feel right, it's probably not," Belson said. 

Suzanne Hest and her husband, Jeff, who have been married for 24 years, run together. They said they were shocked to learn about the attacks on their Avondale neighbors.

"It's one thing to be, you know, assaulted and someone trying to take money form you. But, I mean, this just sounds like a brutal, random behavior," Hest said.

The couple said they will continue run as a pair and be extra cautious. 

"This is generally a safe neighborhood and there are lots of people who run. And you try to be aware, but it won't stop us from running. But we'll continue to try and be diligent, but we really feel for her (and) our fellow runners who are out there trying to be healthy and fit and get attacked," Jeff Hest said. 

Anyone interested in the self-defense classes that Belson teaches can visit thebelsongroup.com to learn more.