Iraq War veteran accused of groping 16-year-old girl

Created: 06/29/2014 10:27 PM
By: Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4

An Iraq War veteran and UNM engineering student is accused of sexually grabbing a 16-year-old girl on an Albuquerque bike path.

Now, the Albuquerque Police Department says she may not have been the only victim.

Hailee Williams says she reported the incident at the beginning of June.

APD's investigation was an uphill battle with many twists and turns as detectives tried to find out who grabbed her. 

"I was walking home from school," Williams said. "He just looked like a normal person."

It was the beginning of summer -- June 6.

"There was a lot of people," Williams said, pointing to the bike path where she was walking that day. 

Williams said she was walking home like she always does, when she noticed a man up ahead of her on a Westside bike path.

"Like randomly, he turns around and starts walking back towards me," she said. "He just looked like everybody else."

But when the man got closer, he did something she'll never forget.

"He pretty much says, 'Here,' and then grabs me between my legs and then took off running," she said.

It was the middle of the day and people noticed.

"They were stopping, and they were like rolling down their windows and asking me what happened and if I was OK," she said.

A network of good Samaritans who witnessed what happened helped police by keeping an eye out for the truck they said the man fled the scene in.

Police said the Colorado license plate on the pickup led APD to Benjamin Sandoval.

Detectives soon learned another woman reported a similar attack on a bike path about two miles from where Williams was groped a week earlier.

They showed both women a photo array including a picture of Sandoval, and both women identified him as their attacker.

"He is a former Iraqi War veteran, Your Honor, he is going to school for engineering here at UNM," Sandoval's attorney said. 

The 32-year-old war vet appeared in court on charges of battery and sexual contact of a minor Sunday morning.

He said nothing, but his attorney says he'll plead not guilty.

Sandoval was released on $10,000 bond, but there was no answer at his home Sunday.

Williams said she hopes justice is served.

"I think it's just gross how anybody gets that kind of mindset or the thought to want to do that to anybody," she said. "Especially if they're clearly a lot younger."

Williams said there were a lot of people around when this happened to her, but APD says that's not always the case.

One of the APD sergeants working this case says a cell phone can be the ultimate weapon if someone feels threatened.

Let it be known you have one, and call for help if you need it.

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