11 Investigates: Turnpike Plaza teenage worker assaulted, suspect at large

VERONA, Pa. — A 17-year old Pennsylvania Turnpike Plaza worker said she was groped and fondled by a customer and her boss refused to call police.

Channel 11 Chief Investigator Rick Earle spoke with the teen and her mother.

They also showed Earle surveillance video that captured the man just seconds after he allegedly fondled the teen as he walked into the plaza.

They are frustrated that the suspect was never identified, and they said he might have been apprehended if management had immediately called the police.

“I was walking across the floor and then a man crossed my path and as he crosses my path he like, groped me, or caressed my side,” said the 17-year-old girl, who is now attending college.

Surveillance video from inside the Oakmont Service Plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike shows the man just after the alleged assault back in August.

The video shows the 17-year-old worker then raising her arms and looking at her co-workers, expressing shock and anger as the man walks away.

“I was like yelling, so like, the other adults around can hear me. I’m like this man just touched me. I’m saying all sorts of versions of that, like I just keep saying, ‘This man just touched me. You all going to let him walk away? He just touched me,’” the victim said.

Seconds later, the man returns into the camera frame.

The victim questions him.

“I was just like are you serious, like I just kept saying, I was in shock, so like, I kept saying the same things like, ‘Are you serious, this man just touched me,’” she told Earle.

The man then left the plaza and she said she immediately told her supervisor but he would not call police.

Earle: I understand they didn’t call police?

Victim: No, they did not.

Earle: Did you ask them to call police?

Victim: I did. I did.

Earle: What did they say?

Victim: They said the police weren’t going to do anything.

She went home and called her mother.

Her mother told her to meet her back at the Oakmont plaza and she would talk to her manager.

She heard the same response.

“He told me they’re not allowed to call the police. That’s what he told me. I’m like that doesn’t make any sense,” said the victim’s mother, who then called police herself.

But when officers arrived and pulled the surveillance video, the suspect was long gone.

Police said the surveillance video shows the suspect leaving in a blue Honda sedan, but they could not make out the license plate number from that vehicle.

And the victim said police told her it would be a difficult case since the camera did not capture the actual indecent assault.

“The officer had told me that they don’t have him directly touching me on camera. They just have us crossing paths so they were like even if we did catch him, we don’t know if we could do anything,” said the victim.

The teenager had worked at the plaza for about a year and said she enjoyed it.

She did not return after the incident and today three months later, she is frustrated and angry about how it was handled.

“It’s very frustrating because I felt like I made enough noise and I’m old enough to evaluate the situation, so the fact that I was just like ignored and blown off, it’s just really irritating,” she said.

And she and her mother both worry that if the man isn’t stopped, he will continue to prey on others.

“No telling if he did that to somebody else, you know, down the next rest stop or the next state or whatever,” said her mother.

Earle reached out to Pennsylvania State Police, the Turnpike Commission and Applegreen USA, the company that operates the service plaza.

Applegreen never got back to us.

The Turnpike Commission sent us a statement.

“The incident to which you refer is part of a criminal investigation that involves employees from our service plaza vendor, Applegreen, USA. Therefore, the commission cannot offer comment at this time. But, the safety, care and comfort of our colleagues and customers is a value and expectation we pass on to any vendor doing business with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission,” said Crispin Havener, a media communications specialist with the Turnpike.

State police said they have now identified a suspect in this incident. They will now refer the case to the Allegheny County District Attorney, who will decide if charges should be filed in this case.

Earle spoke with the victim’s mother after learning that police had a suspect and she hadn’t been told that yet, but she told Earle she was glad to hear that development.

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW

Comments on this article