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Search continues for suspect in attack on Sonoma dog walker

The search continued Monday for a man whose reported attack on a woman near a remote reservoir used by the Sonoma Developmental Center has spotlighted illegal access to the site and the apparent rampant disregard for dog leash laws.

Sunday's attack involving two dog walkers whose pets were unleashed occurred on property owned by the state, and not at Sonoma Valley Regional Park, as authorities originally reported. The adjacent properties are near Glen Ellen, sandwiched between Arnold Drive and Highway 12.

A 60-year-old woman who was walking her dog Sunday near the reservoir, also known as Lake Suttonfield, reported that she was assaulted by a man after their dogs got into a fight. The woman said her assailant wrapped a dog leash around her neck, knocked off her glasses, threw her cellphone in the lake after she threatened to take his photo and kicked her dog several times before he took off running.

Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Thompson said Monday that deputies were following several promising leads, and that a violent crimes detective had been assigned to the case because of the circumstances.

"We want people to use our parks and recreation areas without fear of running into a loose cannon like this guy," Thompson said.

Visitors at the regional park Monday expressed shock at the assault.

"I'm totally blown away," said Cynthia Beck of Oakmont as her dogs romped in a fenced-in area reserved for off-leash play. "The dog owners that come to this park seem to be extremely responsible."

But Sunday's attack appears to have exposed the frequency with which people illegally access the state's property and flout leash laws there and at the adjacent county park, which spans 162 acres.

Sandy Martindale, a former volunteer with the park's Mounted Assistance Unit who was headed out Monday for a ride, said problems are inevitable because of the number of dogs running free in the area.

She recalled one instance in which a dog came bounding over a hill and spooked a horse, causing the animal to spin and throw its rider. Martindale said the woman "won't come here anymore."

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