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Cottage Grove woman suspected in bus stop encounters arrested for allegedly biting estranged husband

A woman was arrested for alleged domestic assault just hours after police identified her as the suspect in recent suspicious school bus stop incidents in Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park.

The woman, who police described as being in crisis in part due to a marital separation, allegedly bit her estranged husband during an altercation at his Cottage Grove home Friday, Sept. 27.

Shortly before that incident, police said, they provided her with crisis resource information after identifying her as the suspect who twice approached elementary school children at bus stops in Cottage Grove and interacted with a 10-year-old St. Paul Park girl outside her home.

The woman matched the description in all three incidents and witnesses to one of the encounters identified her, but she denied involvement.

The woman used poor judgment when she approached the children but did nothing that could result in criminal charges, Cottage Grove Police Capt. Pete Koerner. It was possible she did not even remember the incidents, he added.

“Obviously she’s in crisis,” Koerner said.

Initial police contact with the Cottage Grove woman came overnight Sept. 26, when officers found her sleeping in a blue minivan in Hearthside Park. She and the van matched descriptions provided by witnesses in the recent bus stop incidents.

The first incident happened on Sept. 4, when a woman in a blue minivan asked two students “if they were looking for their parents” at a bus stop at Meadowgrass Avenue and Wildflower Drive. The woman then drove off.

A parent witnessed strange behavior the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 25, when she dropped off her daughter at a bus stop at 90th Street and Janero Avenue. An unidentified woman reportedly got out of a blue minivan and asked a student where he went to school and if he would bring a violin to another student at his school.

Witnesses to that second incident identified the woman police found in the park as the one who showed up at the bus stop.

Police said the suspect descriptions were similar in the cases: a white female in her 30s with grey hair who was driving a blue minivan. The woman police found at Hearthside Park is 39.

In the recent St. Paul Park incident, a woman called police to report that sometime between Sept. 17-19 a woman matching the suspect’s description approached her 10-year-old daughter in their yard in the 800 block of Portland Avenue. The suspect called the girl over to the minivan and asked if she knew the location of the closest library, according to a St. Paul Park police report.

The girl’s father saw the encounter from inside the home. When he went outside, the woman immediately drove away.

When police found the woman in the park at night Sept. 26, she was told she could not sleep there. Then officers saw her van about 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 27, in the parking lot between Applebee’s Restaurant and the District 833 Program Center on East Point Douglas Road. She denied involvement in the bus stop incidents and was not arrested.

“We don’t think there was a threat to any of the students,” Koerner said.

Two hours later, around noon Friday, the woman’s estranged husband called police. The woman had returned to his home in the 8100 block of Hames Road. They got into an argument and she bit him, according to police.

The woman was arrested and transported to the Washington County jail. She was ticketed for fifth-degree domestic assault but had to appear before a judge because it was a domestic assault case.

The woman is on probation for prior criminal convictions, according to police, and it was not immediately clear whether the recent incidents violated her probation.

The bus stop incidents served as a good reminder for parents to talk to their children about what to do if they are approached by strangers, Koerner said.

 Tips for parents

The police department and School District 833 encouraged parents to talk to their children about the following tips if they encounter similar behaviors:

- If you are playing outside it is very important that a grown-up or another child is with you so no one tries to take you.

- Always walk home with someone after school.

- Don't listen to anyone you don't know and who says your mom or dad sent them to pick you up.

- If someone grabs you and tries to take you away or to their car, yell for help and try to get away.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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