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Accused rapist arrested

Cary Ashby • Apr 7, 2014 at 11:21 PM

The city police department arrested a rape suspect on a secret indictment Saturday.

Howard R. Zerkle, 80, of 151 Crestwood Drive, Willard, is charged with one count each of rape, kidnapping and sexual battery. He was arrested at his home about 11:30 a.m. and then transported to the Huron County Jail.

"We arrested him at 151 Crestwood Drive. ... He was arrested without incident," Willard Police Detective Jeremy Draper said.

All three felonies are in connection with an incident involving an autistic 18-year-old Plymouth woman.

The incident was reported Jan. 31, first to the Plymouth Police Department because the victim lives there. Willard police started investigating the case soon afterward, Draper said. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation also was involved.

"She was 18 at the time of the incident. ... It did take place in Willard," Draper said. "It was the first time meeting each other, so we couldn't establish how they know each other."

The victim went to MedCentral Health System in Mansfield the night of the suspected incident.

"She was treated and released that night," Draper said.

In early February, the victim's father began picketing outside the Willard Police Department's headquarters with a sign, expressing his belief that police and prosecutors were not taking his daughter's alleged attacker off the streets.

The victim's father earlier outlined the allegations against Zerkle for the Reflector.

The suspect got the teenager's name from another Plymouth High School student and followed her school bus to her house. When she got off, Zerkle lured her to him, claiming he'd take her to his house, out to eat and to play games, the father said.

The father added his daughter, who is friendly and likes and trusts everybody, probably thought Zerkle was a friend.

The victim's brother tried to stop the man's car after she got in, but it was too late.

The daughter got scared at the stranger's home and texted her mother, the father said. Police were called.

"They found my daughter's blood in his bed," the victim's father told the Reflector, adding authorities also found two used condoms in his apartment and blood on a towel.

Draper said Zerkle didn't make any statements about the case when he was arrested Saturday.

If convicted of rape or kidnapping, Zerkle faces three to 11 years in prison on each first-degree felony. A sexual battery conviction is punishable by nine months to three years.

While the victim's father could not be reached for comment Sunday, her grandfather said the family learned of Zerkle's arrest.

"I told him I was happy about it," the grandfather said about his conversation with his son, adding it took authorities "quite a while" to arrest the suspect.

"I think it's good that he's in custody," he said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reflector Staff Writer Aaron Krause contributed to this story.

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