All was quiet a week ago when Nicholas Baldwin returned to the Warren leg of the Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway for the first time since he reported being attacked on the bike trail last month.
This time, the 27-year-old Mineral Ridge man walked the trail with his parents and Warren City Councilman John Brown.
"It was hard for him, but I think he just wanted to go back for some closure," remarked his dad, Dennis. "But I don't think he'll try to ride through there again."
The Oct. 12 afternoon assault renewed concerns about safety along the Warren portion of the bike trail.
Last week, Brown, who regularly rides the trail, met with city police officials about plans to increase police presence along the Warren portion.
"Most of the time it's very quiet. There are times you can be riding and you don't see anyone. I would like that to change. I'd like to see more people using it," Brown said.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Carl Antonelli of Champion bikes along the Warren leg of the Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway bike trail Friday afternoon between Woodland Street and Charles Avenue in Warren.
About a dozen Warren City police officers have been trained for the department's new bike patrol unit. Warren police Chief Eric Merkel said there are plans under way for the bike patrol to spend some of its time policing the bike trail.
"It's definitely what we've had in mind as we move forward," Merkel said.
He said crime along the bike trail isn't any more prevalent than in other parts of the city.
According to Warren City police records, calls coming into the police station the past several months in reference to the bike trail, specifically the areas of Woodland and Railroad streets where Baldwin was assaulted, are mostly about unruly juveniles, noise complaints, traffic stops at or near the intersection, crashes and the occasional suspicious person.
Zachary Svette, operations director for the Trumbull County MetroParks, said in his five years with MetroParks, he has never been aware of an incident like Baldwin's along any of the bike trail areas in Trumbull County, including Warren.
"That's the first occurrence of anything like that that's happened on the bike trail since I've been here," he said. "I really believe it was probably a crime of opportunity. An isolated incident.
Brown spearheaded the "Bike to Work" campaign to encourage residents to avoid driving and start biking when it is possible. He said "a few bad apples can make it bad for everyone else."
Carl Antonelli of Champion, who also frequents the bike trail with his wife, Gladys, agreed.
"I think it's the exception rather than the rule," he said. "People who complain about it are usually the people who don't use it. The key is for more people to use it. There's safety in numbers. The more people who use it the safer it will be. I sympathize for the young man. You hate to see that anywhere. But will it keep me from using the bike trail? No."
Many local avid riders also said they will continue to ride the bike trail, including the portion that takes them through Warren.
David Ambrose on Warren, who said he's been on the bike trail a couple times this year, said he is always concerned about safety wherever he goes.
"I think it's a step forward for Warren to have a bike patrol, especially one that spends time on the bike trail," he said. "I think that would encourage more people to use it and the more people who use it the safer it will become. We really need to protect what we have and be a bicycle friendly community. I think the assault was a crime of opportunity. I don't think it's the norm."
Avid riders suggest riding with another person, always carrying a cell phone, avoid riding late at night and riding during daylight hours.
"You have to use wisdom, like with anything else, and be aware of your surroundings," said Greg Greathouse of Warren, who spent some time on the trail last week. "I've been on that trail numerous time and never had a problem. Something like this happens to someone and you think about and realize it's actually really rare."
Ambrose, who said he's never had a problem when riding the trail, is among a group of riders hoping the city will extend the bike trail into the garden district.
The trails are part of the Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway, a project that will connect existing bike trails as well as construct new segments to form one 100-miles trail that will extend from Walnut Beach on Lake Erie in Ashtabula County down to the Ohio River near East Liverpool. All three Trumbull County trails will eventually be connected, and the Niles Greenway will connect to the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway in Mahoning County.
A ribbon cutting marked the opening of the completed $1.8 million second phase of the city's portion of the bike trail, the final phase managed by the city of Warren. The three-mile stretch runs from North River Road to Burton Street on the south side of the city.
The first phase of Warren's trail was completed in 2010 at a cost of $1.5 million; that section runs from the Northend Park Trailhead at the corner of Fremont and Idylwild N.E. to North River Road.
The Warren portions of the Greenway are primarily being paid for through federal grants.
The third phase of the bike trail involves constructing 2.2 miles of asphalt from North River Road to Champion East Road in Warren, Warren Township and Champion Township. Svette said that section is set to start construction some time next year.
Gladys Antonelli said she and her husband ride into Warren every two or three months.
"We've generally been on the trail Sundays and we've never felt threatened. One time there was some broken glass along the trail. We've seen some debris and it seemed like maybe there were some kids there or something. But we've never had any problems with anyone.
"I was really excited when the trail was coming in. I don't plan to stop using it. I agree that as more people use it, the trail will begin to police itself."
Reports state that Nicholas Baldwin was beaten and robbed of his bike while checking out the Warren section of the trail for the first time around 5 p.m. Oct. 12. He told police two males he didn't know started throwing rocks at him as he approached the bridge near Woodland and Railroad streets at Charles Street.
Baldwin told police the men knocked him off his bike and beat him. He said his glasses were knocked off during the attack leaving him unable to identify the attackers. After getting away to a nearby street, Baldwin was spotted bleeding and lying on the ground by a passing motorist. The motorist called 911, reports state. Reports indicated that Baldwin had possible internal injuries, severe lacerations and a swollen cheek. When police arrived, they found him bleeding from the head. He was taken by ambulance to Trumbull Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released. His father said he returned to work that Monday.
Police have said that the matter is under investigation, but that they have not made any arrests. However, Dennis Baldwin said rumors have circulated that police had a suspect in custody at one time but couldn't prove he had anything to do with his son's assault.
"We've heard the bike had been painted. You hear lots of rumors. But the support and kindness my son has received since the attack has been overwhelming. People have offered him bikes to replace is, they've been very concerned about it. So even out of this there has been good. We did find out after the fact that there are a lot of good people out there."