With a suspect in Western New York's bike path killings taken into custody Monday, Debby VonLangen of Amherst felt relieved but not necessarily safer.
The Willow Ridge resident lives near the path that runs parallel to Sweet Home Road off Ellicott Creek Road South, where the suspect, Altemio Sanchez of Cheektowaga, is alleged to have raped a 14-year-old girl in 1989. He is also accused of attacking two other women and killing one of them, Linda Yalem, 17 years ago on the nearby Ellicott Creek Bike Path.
VonLangen echoed the sentiments of others who either live near or regularly use one of the many bike paths where Sanchez is alleged to have made his attacks. They applauded police efforts in capturing the suspect but also expressed concern that other like-minded individuals still exist.
"I'm glad he's in custody, if he's the right person, but I still would be cautious," said VonLagen. "What's to prevent someone else from doing this?"
It's a thought that also crossed the mind of Kevin Patterson, a triathlete from Clarence. "Even though this individual was caught, we need to use this as a reminder to run and bike in pairs," said Patterson.
He and others are organizing a 5K and a mile-long race for Aug. 1 to raise funds for surveillance equipment and emergency phones that would be installed along the path near where Joan Diver of Clarence was killed late last year.
"I also think we need to continue the effort to purchase surveillance video equipment and emergency phones so that something like this never happens again," said Patterson, who was out of town on business Monday but learned from a relative about the arrest of a suspect in the bike path killings.
"The bike path is supposed to be used for families to get together for fitness and a place to ride your bike and run without worrying about cars. Instead, for the last four or five months, people have been using it on a very seldom basis or running along the path with their heads down or not making eye contact," he said.
Clarence Supervisor Kathleen E. Hallock said the town has already been awarded $15,000 in state funds through Assemblyman Michael Cole, R-Alden, to install surveillance cameras along the bike path and hire more security to patrol Clarence Town Park and parts of the bike path on bicycles.
"But we also don't want people to lose that sense of awareness, that sense of self-protection. This is very important, and we're never going to relax on that message," Hallock said.
VonLagen, who edits a neighborhood newsletter that occasionally provides safety tips for the Willow Ridge area, said that not only does she forbid her teenage daughter to use the bike path, but she herself will not venture on it without her husband accompanying her.
Cameron Hill, former president of the Willow Ridge Homeowners Association, believes that is a wise course. "I'm hoping that people don't let their guard down too much, because you can't in this day and age."
In Clarence, Patterson also hopes to organize a regular Saturday morning run that will attract people to run together at least once every week. "So if people aren't able to run with their spouses or kids, or a regular running partner can't join them, they'll at least have several others whom they'll get to know to run with," he said.