By Danielle Stanton
Toledo Free Press News Editor
At Put-in-Bay, one of Northwest Ohio’s favorite summertime destination, 15 women who thought they were having an innocent drink may have been given the date-rape drug Rohypnol.
According to reports from the Put-in-Bay Police Department between May 5 to July 25, police responded to reports of “possible rape,” “intoxicated female” and “possible drugged female” 15 times at several locations on the island, mainly taverns but at least one bed-and-breakfast.
Each of the police reports followed a similar vein: The women were either violently ill or passed out when police arrived and those conscious could not remember the circumstances or events that led to becoming ill. Upon further investigation, in many cases police found that the women had received drinks from a stranger or acquaintance.
At least two of the victims may have been raped and two others had to be transported via helicopter to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo. One man has been questioned and another detained, but no arrests have been made.
Put-in-Bay Police Chief Ric Lampela has come under scrutiny and criticism recently. About one fourth of the department’s officers are in their first year of service and four more seasoned officers are slated to leave soon. More inexperienced officers will replace them.
Lampela has said it’s hard to find quality candidates because of the job’s seasonality and low pay and that he is competing with other departments.
Negative attention was fueled anew July 30 by a Cleveland Scene article, shared widely via social media, that refers to Put-in-Bay as “Roofie Island.”
Lampela was not available for comment, July 31, however, a faxed media statement from the department noted none of the incidents have been proven to involve drugs.
“There have been 15 reported incidents in 2014 (as of 7/31/2014) where the person believed that they were possibly drugged while at Put-in-Bay,” the statement read. “To this day, none of the cases have been positively confirmed as a drugging incident.”
A police report from June 15 states that after a woman got off work, “she was picked up by a male named Kevin and was taken to St. Hazards (on Middle Bass Island) for a drink. [The woman] says she was later dropped off at her house and about an hour later, she started feeling funny and her parents noticed she was acting differently …” It’s not clear from the report whether Kevin is a suspect.
On May 5, police reported that a woman got off work from Mr. Ed’s Bar and Grille about 1:30 a.m. and then had drinks with a man whom police would not identify. They consumed alcohol at three establishments. She then could not remember anything until she found the man lying on top of her “yelling for her to ‘take her f***ing clothes off.’” The man then raped her, she told police.
Put-in-Bay is a summer resort and tourism destination on South Bass Island in the western end of Lake Erie. Only about 140 residents live on the island year-round, but thousands throng to its shores every summer for the boating, fishing, gift shops, caves and Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial as well as its bar culture. The island recently celebrated one of its busiest annual events, the 12 Days of Christmas in July, in which the island is decked out in Christmas decorations and businesses offer drink and food specials.
Some island residents and business owners are upset by the negative media coverage.
In a letter to the editor to the Sandusky Register, Ken Benjamin, owner of Stonehenge Estate on Put-in-Bay, said the reports were hurting tourism.
“Your daily negative front page drum beat of South Bass Island issues needs to be reviewed,” he wrote. “All of this lazy, space filling reporting negates the positive work of the Lake Erie Shores & Islands organization and various chambers (of commerce). Your ‘National Inquiry’ reporting destroys the money and time spent encouraging visitors from all over the country to share this wonderful part of Ohio with us. Our industry is tourism and we all have to deal with thousands of visitors in a short 110-day period. Most of us in the islands’ business community wish that 1 percent of those thousands who cause most of the troubles would go somewhere else. The picture you continue to paint every day of our community is ugly. Not so and it needs to stop!”
In an editor’s note, the newspaper defended its coverage, responding that to “censor news information to create a better local business climate does not align with better journalistic practices.”
A call to the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau went unanswered July 31.