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Victim testifies about attack at North Stafford vape shop

Victim testifies about attack at North Stafford vape shop

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A woman who was sexually assaulted after entering a North Stafford business Aug. 30 explained Thursday how she talked herself out of further harm by lying to her attacker.

The 28-year-old woman was the key prosecution witness at a preliminary hearing in Stafford General District Court for Charles Henry Austin III. Austin, 31, is charged with abduction with the intent to defile, attempted rape, aggravated sexual battery, using a firearm in the commission of a felony and assorted misdemeanors.

According to the evidence presented by prosecutor Ed Lustig, the woman went into the East Coast Vapors in the 400 block of Garrisonville Road shortly before closing time that evening. She said she was the only customer in the store and Austin was the lone employee.

After spending some time discussing some of the store’s products and making small talk, the woman said Austin locked the store’s door, telling her he didn’t want to deal with any more customers. Another customer came to the door a short time later, but was not allowed in, she said.

The woman said Austin later asked for her name and phone number, supposedly so he could call her when a product she was interested in came in the next day. She said when she turned her back to him, he grabbed her from behind and dragged her into a back room.

The woman said she tried to fight him off, leaving multiple scratch marks on Austin’s face.

She testified that he told her to stop screaming and eventually ended up on top of her with a gun pressed against her head. She quoted him as saying, “Stop yelling and I’ll go easy on you. Now take off your [expletive] pants or I’ll kill you.”

The woman said she then reasoned with the man as calmly as she could. She said she told him what he’d done to that point wasn’t so bad, and promised not to tell anyone if he let her go.

After her attacker commented about how he’d already ruined his life, the woman said she told him that was not true. She then grabbed his face with her hands in an effort to show him she cared and made him promise not to do this to anyone else.

The woman said she was then able to slide from under Austin and slowly walk over to her phone and keys. She said she struggled to keep calm as she unlocked the door and left the store.

She then drove to a nearby parking lot, where she called her best friend, her mother and finally the police.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Aubry said he had responded to the call when Austin drove up in a blue Jeep and said, “I’m the one you’re looking for.”

Aubry testified that Austin, who had fresh scratches on his face, then admitted without prompting that he’d held a gun on a woman and told her to take her clothes off. The gun was recovered in the vehicle.

Judge Robert Reibach sent the charges to a grand jury for a possible indictment.

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404

kepps@freelancestar.com

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