Second man arrested in sexual assault of abducted W.Va. woman

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A second roofer from Mexico has been charged in connection with the sexual assault of a woman in Washington, Pa.

Federal agents in Columbus, Ohio, arrested Elmer Pina Ramirez, 44, last week after stopping a car he and others were driving on their way to Mexico.

The FBI said Mr. Ramirez and Jesus Tapia, 37, abducted a 19-year-old woman, who has mental disabilities, from outside her home in Wheeling, W.Va., on July 7 and drove her to Mr. Tapia's residence on Wylie Avenue in Washington.

There, agents said, they kept her against her will and repeatedly raped her for four days before returning her to Wheeling on July 11. The FBI said both men are in the U.S. illegally and were working as roofers in Washington County.

Figuring out what happened to the woman during her four-day disappearance proved difficult for police and the FBI because she has limited understanding.

She said the two men who abducted her did not speak fluent English, but she could not describe them, their car or where they went. She said she saw the "Welcome to Pennsylvania" sign on the interstate, but she didn't know what city she was in.

Authorities, however, had physical evidence.

Police discovered a July 10 cash register receipt in her pocket from the McDonald's on Jefferson Avenue in Washington, and the change in her pocket matched the amount listed on the receipt.

The woman said she had been taken to a McDonald's by the men.

She was also carrying a gum wrapper with the name "Jesus" written on it, along with a cell phone number agents traced to Mr. Tapia.

Wheeling police and the FBI were able to retrace Mr. Tapia's movements by his cell phone records and placed him in Wheeling at the time of the abduction.

Agents said the call pattern indicates Mr. Tapia and Mr. Ramirez were "circling the area looking for a victim." On the day the woman was returned, a call was made on Mr. Tapia's phone that bounced off a cell tower in Claysville, about halfway between Wheeling and Washington.

Mr. Tapia told agents that Mr. Ramirez was with him July 7 and that Mr. Ramirez was driving. He admitted to having sex with the woman once, according to an affidavit, but denied writing his name and number on the gum wrapper, saying one of his roommates must have done it.

Friends of both men have contacted the FBI to say the woman did not appear to be held against her will, according to the affidavit.

The woman also denied sexual activity when first questioned by Wheeling police. But in a subsequent forensic interview at a child advocacy center, federal agents said, she said both men forced themselves on her.

Although Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Tapia were doing roofing jobs in Washington, Mr. Ramirez's Nissan is registered in his name at a Columbus address.

When agents pulled that vehicle over last Monday, they said it was "fully packed and the occupants were en route to Mexico."

Mr. Ramirez was in custody in Ohio awaiting a federal detention hearing in Wheeling, which will probably occur this week. Mr. Tapia is being held in jail in Moundsville, W.Va., pending trial.

Both face deportation proceedings, in addition to the criminal charges.

state - neigh_washington

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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