At 5:20 a.m. on Friday, with the streets of her Flanders neighborhood still dark and devoid of normal daytime commotion, Robin Southard stepped out of her home—as she has done every morning for the past six months—to go on a bike ride.
But Ms. Southard, who had been training for a ride benefiting research into cystic fibrosis, a disease her 14-year-old daughter suffers from, had no idea that she would be pursued by an unknown man driving a beige sedan.
“I thought I was done for,” she said on Monday. “I thought that was it.”
She said she managed to escape her pursuer by eventually ditching her bicycle, running up the driveway of a neighbor’s home and hiding in a bush—and calling 911 on her cellphone. The man went so far as to drive his car across the home’s front lawn and exited his vehicle before spotting her and recognizing that she was on the phone with police. He then jumped back in his car and sped away, she said.
“I got off [my bike] at 3 Temple Avenue, and that’s where he came after me,” Ms. Southard said. “He came up Sylvan [Avenue], he came flying around the corner. There were no cars in the driveway, so I ran up it. I had less than 10 seconds to make a decision.”
She said her pursuer’s vehicle came to a stop just feet from where she was hiding, and its headlights temporarily blinded her. While she could not make out the man’s facial features, she said he stood just a shade under 6 feet tall and had a dark complexion.
She said the man took a few step toward her, but then retreated quickly before fleeing.
“The police probably got there within three or four minutes—in reality it didn’t take that long,” she said. “But it felt like an eternity.”
Responding officers escorted her to her home, where she said the reality of what had just happened sunk in and she “broke down.”
Southampton Town Police Sergeant William Kiernan said this week that the incident is under investigation and that there are no suspects at the time. He added that police, who have not received other reports about a suspicious man driving a beige sedan in and around Flanders, never issued an alert about the attempted abduction because it was not clear at the time that a crime had actually occurred.
But Ms. Southard, who said she first noticed the man’s car parked at the end of her street when she wheeled her pink Schwinn down her driveway Friday morning, said she has made it her mission to locate the man whom she believes would have abducted her if she had not been on the phone with police. “He may have taken my freedom of walking or riding my bike, but he’s not going to win,” she said. “I’m going to find him.”
Ms. Southard said local children have told her they’ve spotted the same car, with its yellow New York license plates, in recent days; they’ve shared that they’ve seen a man watching children waiting for the school bus near the intersection of Dale Avenue and Long Neck Boulevard, staring at them and making them feel uncomfortable.
Her and the children’s experiences have prompted Ms. Southard to give up her morning bike rides and walks so she can start patrolling her neighborhood with her car. She’s also made the rounds, asking neighbors if they’ve seen the car in recent days. Other parents have been helping her with the patrols and she has even inspired local civic groups to hold an emergency meeting tonight, Thursday, October 10, to discuss the issue.
Janice Young, president of the Bayview Pines Civic Association—one of two groups holding a combined meeting that begins at 7 p.m. at the David Crohan Community Center on Flanders Road—said the incident is troubling and should be addressed.
“We want to try to get everybody watching out and aware of the situation,” Ms. Young said. “We’re inviting a representative from the police department to come and answer some questions.”
For the past six months Ms. Southard had been riding her fixed speed cruiser—which resembles a child’s bicycle and was picked out by her five daughters earlier this year—logging 12 to 18 miles a day as she trained for the Aptalis CF Cycle for Life bike race. She still rode in the race on Saturday in Riverhead, taking third place in the 32-mile leg of the competition, though her mind was elsewhere.
She explained that she would start her training route each morning by turning left onto Long Neck Road and heading toward Reeves Bay. But on Friday, she made a right instead and the car she had noticed earlier went left.
“If I had went my proper route, he would have got me then and there,” she said. “I’ve never made a right out of this block, I’ve always made a left. Maybe someone upstairs was looking out for me.”
Ms. Southard took Long Neck Boulevard north until it dead-ended at the bay. As she was heading back from the water, toward Flanders Road, she noticed the car again and, this time, its driver began tailing her.
Too afraid to return to her block because of its lack of street lights, Ms. Southard said she kept pedaling, hoping to lose the car somewhere in the Bayview Pines neighborhood. But the car turned first, making a right onto June Avenue, and she turned onto Elm Avenue, heading west. But at the first cross street—Royal Avenue—she spotted him again, about a block away, and slowly heading in the same direction as her. When she reached the next street, Sylvan Avenue, the car was heading straight for her, prompting her to ditch her bicycle and phone the police.
Vickie Farrugia, president of the Water’s Edge Civic Association, which also will be a part of Thursday night’s meeting, said she hopes the police will dedicate extra patrols to the neighborhood until the man is caught. She also would like for the groups to form a neighborhood watch.
As for Ms. Southard, she is committed to making sure the driver, who she thinks lives in the area, is found before something else like this happens.
“I’m gonna find him,” she said. “God help me, I’m gonna get him before he gets one of these kids.”