At 3:15 the morning of Oct. 14, a Saturday, the Flagler County 911 dispatch center got a call from Florida Hospital Flagler’s emergency room. A 26-year-old woman was reporting that she may have been raped somewhere near the surf between South 4th and South 9th Street in Flagler Beach.
When a Flagler Beach police officer got to the hospital, the woman was covered with a blanket, shivering, shaking, crying. She’d been brought to the hospital by her aunt after calling her mother in Philadelphia a short time after waking up on the beach around 2 a.m. Her underwear was missing. She had an inexplicable stain on her dress. Her cell phone was also missing. She said she had soreness in her groin area, a feeling she described to a detective as “resistance strain,” or “as if she might have possibly been trying to clench her legs together and resisting while someone was trying to pull them apart.”
She walked back to Tortugas Restaurant, where she had been spending the evening earlier with a friend. The staff was closing up for the night. She explained that she’d lost her phone. It had in fact been turned in by someone else, who’d found it across the street from the restaurant. She was thus able to make calls and get taken to the hospital.
The investigation that followed consisted of statements from the victim, the friend she spent much of the evening with at Tortugas, a few others, and analysis of video surveillance. But it was inconclusive, with lab analysis of the rape kit still pending. This account is based on the Flagler Beach detective’s investigative report.
The victim and her friend made arrangements with another friend to pick them up at Tortugas around midnight since they assumed they would not be in any condition to drive: it was ladies’ night, when drinks flow freely. The victim told a police officer she did not drink much but had eaten eggs and grits before leaving home to ensure she would not get too drunk. (Such hangover cures are largely anecdotal.) She would later tell the detective that she had three tequila shots after having “approximately” four other drinks.
There was a lot of dancing. The alleged victim remembers dancing with a man called Shawn or Steve who wore a kanga (or cabbie) hat and a striped shirt, but after that she and her friend went elsewhere on the dance floor. That’s where the woman had more drinks and the tequila, beyond which her memory failed. Next thing she remembered was waking up on the beach.
Her friend corroborated much of the sequence of events, with some differences. Her friend at one point lost sight of the alleged victim, went to Finn’s to look for her, did not find her there, then called a friend to come get her. But beyond that, her memory was spotty too.
Video surveillance told its own story. From around 10 to 11:30 p.m., the victim is seen on the dance floor. “While dancing during this lengthy time frame,” the investigative report states, the victim is “seen ‘twerking’ (a type of dance move where the individual is in a perpetually squatting position. [The victim] is also seen at one point doing the ‘splits’ (gymnastic moves) and while down on the ground in the ‘splits’ she continues to bounce up and down to the music.” (The parentheticals are in the original investigative report.) “During this time period [the victim] is seen dancing with various people until approximately [10:40 p.m.] when she begins to dance exclusively with a thin built black male.”
At 11:35 p.m., the victim and her friend appear to have an argument. The victim displays “an angry posture” toward her friend and walks away angrily, leaving her friend in the hallway, in tears, later to be consoled by a patron. “During this time frame you can clearly see that [the victim] has her phone lit up in her hand.” She spends a brief time in the restaurant, around the dance floor, then “angrily” walks across State Road A1A toward the beach. No one is seen following her. She would wake up two hours later on the beach.
Until that point the two friends had closely followed the cautionary protocol of a night out–making plans for transportation and sticking together at all times.
Further video analysis shows that at 1:16 a.m. a man is seen taking a blanket out of a car and walk toward the same area of the dunes. He was apparently joining others there. Twenty-one minutes later, he is seen walking back to the dining area with a woman he’d been seen spending the majority of the evening with in earlier footage. The woman is carrying the blanket. The man hands a cell phone to restaurant staff–the cell phone that would prove to be the one the victim had briefly lost. The detective located the man with the blanket, who told the detective that he’d walked over to the beach with his girlfriend and two of her friends, hung out there for a while, then walked back up. On the way back his foot hit against something. He picked up the object, which turned out to be the cell phone. While he and his friends were near the surf, they did not hear a commotion or notice anything unusual, though the period of time they were there accounts only for a portion of the two hours the alleged victim was on the beach.
The alleged victim is seen walking back to the bar area at 1:59 a.m., after being off camera for about two hours.
After she called her mother and someone else in hysterics, the victim’s aunt, a Palm Coast resident, picked her up at the restaurant and brought her to Florida Hospital Flagler.
The case remains under investigation. The rape kit has been dispatched to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab. A recent law requires the kit to be dispatched and analyzed within four months.
Officials familiar with this sort of incident stress that “inconclusive” at this stage means several things: the case isn’t closed. But if some evidence suggests that nothing may have happened, that’s seen as optimism about the final outcome–not skepticism about the woman’s account: there is no question about the woman’s lack of memories of the latter part of the night. And authorities would rather individuals always report such incidents, even at the risk of potential embarrassment, than not, however fractional the risk or possibility that a rape may have taken place.
In Flagler County as elsewhere, notably, individuals in such situations may also seek wellness exams at the Family Life Center, the shelter for abused women that also serves as a rape crisis center, confidentially and, if they choose, without the involvement of law enforcement, assuming evidence of rape is not uncovered and charges sought. A Family Life Center victim’s advocate was at the woman’s side at the hospital the morning of Oct. 14.