A 38-year-old man has been charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in view of passersby in a public area on the edge of downtown Lake Geneva.
Jason W. Connell, who told police he was homeless, is accused of assaulting the teen around 2:40 p.m. Aug. 4 near a historic railroad bridge over the White River just north of Main Street.
Although the site is shrouded by trees, it is adjacent to a city park and is just steps away from storefronts and tourist attractions in the city’s downtown business district.
The teen told police that Connell drugged her with alcohol and marijuana, and that she fell asleep because she was intoxicated.
Community leaders are expressing shock over the accusations, and city officials are taking steps to improve security in the area where the alleged attack occurred.
Mayor Tom Hartz said the city plans to clear away trees to create an area that is more open and is not so concealing.
Of the alleged assault on the teen, Hartz said: “It’s sad. It’s disappointing. It’s tragic. And it will be responded to.”
The director of the nearby Geneva Lake Museum said she was shocked to learn that a teenage girl had allegedly been attacked while patrons were visiting the museum on a Sunday afternoon.
“That is just awful — and in broad daylight,” museum director Janet Ewing said. “We can’t have that going on in our community.”
Connell has been charged with four counts of sexual assault of a child, each a felony carrying a possible prison term of 40 years.
He is being held at the Walworth County Jail on $20,000 bond. Court records show that Connell entered a not-guilty plea Aug. 19 and waived his right to a preliminary hearing of the evidence. He is due back in court Sept. 24 for a status hearing.
According to a criminal complaint issued by the Walworth County district attorney, the alleged incident on Aug. 4 was not the first time that the 15-year-old girl had encountered Connell.
The girl told investigators she had met Connell the previous day at a friend’s house on Country Club Drive in Lake Geneva. Connell was there as a guest of the friend’s mother, and he gave the young girls alcohol, according to the criminal complaint.
He then fondled and sexually assaulted the 15-year-old girl, prosecutors charge.
The next day, the girl headed to the historic railroad bridge near downtown to take a walk, and she encountered Connell again.
According to the criminal complaint, several people walked past while the alleged assault was taking place in public view, including juveniles who alerted police that they saw two people having sex.
When police arrived on the scene, both Connell and the girl told police there had been no sexual assault. The next day, however, the girl and her mother went to the police department and reported that Connell had assaulted the girl “multiple times.”
The girl will turn 16 years old in November.
The four counts of sexual assault stem from Connell’s various alleged acts of fondling and sexual intercourse with the girl, both at the friend’s house Aug. 3 and by the railroad bridge Aug. 4.
The defendant also faces a misdemeanor charge of illegal possession of a prescription drug believed to be a muscle relaxer.
The district attorney announced the charges on Aug. 12.
Prosecutors and police have not pinpointed where the incident in public view occurred, except to say it was near the railroad bridge. The bridge crosses over the White River between Dunn Field park and a city public works station.
The bridge is part of a paved path that has become a popular trail, emerging from the wooded area directly into downtown Lake Geneva.
During a meeting Aug. 13 of the Lake Geneva City Council public works committee, city officials discussed clearing trees near the bridge in response to suspected criminal activity both near the railroad bridge and in Dunn Field.
Alderwoman Cindy Flower, chairwoman of the committee, said she has felt uncomfortable previously walking through the heavily wooded area around the old railroad bridge.
Flower said she was not aware of the Aug. 4 alleged sexual assault of a girl.
“That’s crazy,” Flower said. “It’s scary. Wow.”