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DNA links Cotati man with assault on rural road; plea delayed on count, 8 others


A Cotati man suspected in as many as 13 aggressive roadside encounters and attempted assaults on Sonoma County women has been charged with a forced sexual act after DNA evidence linked him to a November attack.

Thomas Boccaleoni, 44, appeared in court Thursday to answer to the sexual assault and eight other felony charges. He delayed entering a plea until Monday morning.

The complaint against Boccaleoni recognizes three victims in three separate incidents. It is the foundation of what investigators believe will be an expanding criminal case as they continue their investigation into a series of mostly rural roadside attacks that have been reported over the past five months.

In the first case, a young woman was sexually assaulted when she pulled over on Bennett Valley Road while driving home from Santa Rosa Junior College late on the night of Nov. 18, authorities said.

DNA evidence collected from her clothing in November was returned to investigators late Wednesday as a match with Boccaleoni's DNA, Sheriff's Department officials said.

Boccaleoni is charged with sexual assault, assault with intent to commit a sex act, battery, false imprisonment and making threats in that case.

Sheriff's Lt. Chris Spallino said he could not discuss details of the charges, which allege sexual penetration with a foreign object against the victim's will.

In the second case, a woman was attacked late Jan. 6 on Calistoga Road north of Santa Rosa, authorities said. The woman pulled to the side of the road for a man who was aggressively following her. Once she stopped, he walked to her car and asked her to call for help because a motorcycle accident had occurred. He then tried to open her car door.

Boccaleoni was identified in a photo by the woman, authorities said, and he faces one count of assault with intent to commit a sex act in that case.

In the third case, a 46-year-old woman who stopped on Sexton Road outside Sebastopol early in the morning of April 18 when her assailant persuaded her to pull over by saying her car was leaking fluid. He then tried to yank her out of the car, grabbed her by the neck and threatened her if she resisted.

She managed to shove him off her before throwing her car into gear and speeding away with the door open, authorities said. That woman also identified Boccaleoni in a photo, authorities said.

He faces charges of assault with the intent to commit a sex act, false imprisonment and making threats in that case.

Detectives are continuing to investigate Boccaleoni's potential involvement in a series of other episodes on rural roads in which women traveling alone reported being followed aggressively by a male driver who sometimes flashed his headlights, pulled alongside or feigned emergencies to try to get them to pull over.

Spallino said some of those 13 cases are thought to be connected to Boccaleoni. Some victims have yet to identify a suspect, he said. Other women may be victims but have not reported the crime, he said.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum on Thursday denied a Press Democrat request to photograph Boccaleoni, concurring with prosecutor Jason Riehl that publishing his photo could jeopardize the status of the 10 unresolved cases.

Spallino also declined to release information about vehicles used by Boccaleoni, which were searched but not impounded by investigators. He said they matched descriptions of cars used in the incidents. Spallino said that information could harm the cases of alleged victims.

At the time of his arrest Tuesday, Boccaleoni was on probation from a 2005 San Francisco case in which he pleaded guilty to a burglary charge in exchange for the dismissal of 10 other felony counts, including assault with intent to commit rape, sexual battery, indecent exposure, false imprisonment and assault with a deadly weapon, a San Francisco court spokeswoman said.

He was given four years' probation and a year in jail in that case, which stemmed from encounters with four women in the Marina District during a two-hour period early one December morning.

Police said Boccaleoni drove around the neighborhood looking for women to approach under the guise of seeking directions. He then would grab and grope them.

One of the women recorded his license plate number and gave it to police, leading to Boccaleoni's arrest a few days later.

All four women identified him in a photo lineup, police said.

But the next summer he reached a plea deal that left any reference to sex crimes off his record.

Locally, Boccaleoni's criminal history includes a 1989 conviction for making obscene phone calls and a 1992 violation of a protective order in a domestic case.

An employee at Marin Joe's restaurant in Corte Madera, where Boccaleoni worked as a line cook, said workers there were aware of his 2005 arrest and related history.

The employee, who only would be identified by his first name, Tom, said Boccaleoni worked 9 to 5 each day and generally kept to himself. He was "kind of the opposite" of his outgoing, engaging wife, Barbara, who works at the restaurant as a bookkeeper.

"Most days he'd just come in, wouldn't say a word to anybody," he said.

Spallino said investigators were tipped to Boccaleoni by law enforcement and civilian sources who recalled his history or thought he resembled a police description and composite sketch from the recent Sonoma County incidents.

Boccaleoni had been under surveillance for about a week when sheriff's deputies arrested him at his home late Tuesday night, Spallino said.

In court Thursday, Boccaleoni told Daum he had not contacted a lawyer, was employed at the time of his arrest and earned about $20 an hour.

Daum referred him to the county Public Defender's Office and set his bail at $1 million. But Boccaleoni is not eligible for bail because he is on probation.

District attorney spokesman Spencer Brady said if convicted, Boccaleoni could be sentenced to consecutive sentences in the three cases.

Three of the nine charges carry sentences of up to six years in prison. The sexual battery charge carries a sentence of up to four years. The most serious charge, sexual assault, carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison.

You can reach Staff Writer Laura Norton at 521-5220 or laura.norton@pressdemocrat.com and Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@

pressdemocrat.com.