AUBURN, AL (WSFA) - As shocking new details emerged this week in the rape of an Auburn University student on a bus, many immediately recognized one of the suspects named in the case.
He'd been their bus driver on multiple occasions.
One student discussed her encounters with him in a post that's getting a lot of attention.
Auburn University sophomore Carlee Coleman regularly uses buses to get to and from campus, including Tiger Ten, the late-night transportation service for students.
She snapped selfies with one of her regular bus drivers, Tony Patillo, 51, who she got to know through her travels. This week she saw Patillo's face in a mugshot, when he was charged in the rape of an 18-year-old student that happened late last Friday night inside one of the moving buses.
“As a personal survivor of sexual assault rape, my reaction first was disbelief and then fear as I had personally known Mr. Patillo,” Coleman said.
On Sept. 15 at approximately 11:50 p.m., Auburn police received a report of a man exposing himself while standing over a woman in the 700 block of Aspen Heights Lane.
“The caller advised that they observed a male subject standing over a female subject who was laying on the ground, and he apparently had his pants down,” said Assistant Chief William Mathews.
The caller gave police a description of the suspect. Officers located the suspect, identified as Patillo, near the roadway and detained him.
Further investigation determined that the victim, who appeared to be incapacitated, got on a bus on Magnolia Avenue. She found herself alone on the bus with Patillo and the driver, James Don Johnson, 32, of Auburn.
Both men were employees of First Transit, the contractor hired by Auburn University to provide late-night transportation service for students.
“While on the bus, she was sexually assaulted by Patillo, an employee of First Transit. The investigation further determined that Johnson, who was driving the bus, engaged in actions to perpetuate the crime while Patillo was in the rear of the bus assaulting the victim,” Mathews stated.
Patillo later exited the bus near Aspen Heights Lane with the female victim, and it was at that point he was observed by passersby standing over her. Johnson continued on, steering the bus along its route.
“He was complicit in the event. He allowed the event to take place,” Mathews said of Johnson.
Investigators were eventually able to identify, contact, and interview the victim.
Patillo and Johnson were both charged with rape and sodomy.
Court documents revealed that the sexual assault was captured on the bus's video surveillance system.
In Patillo’s affidavit, it states he was taken to the police division where he was interviewed. He admitted to having his pants down but denied having sex with the female.
The victim did not remember anything due to her level of intoxication. Officers reviewed footage of the transit bus and observed Patillo take her to the back of the bus and appear to have intercourse with her. Patillo then forced her to perform oral intercourse on him. During the course of these offenses, the driver of the transit bus, James Johnson turns the lights off on the bus at the request of Patillo. Johnson later gives Patillo a warning call before turning the lights back on before they pick up another passenger. The victim confirms she was the female in the video and had no recollection of the events nor did she consent to any sexual contact.
When Carlee Coleman found out about the rape, she wrote a Facebook post about her encounters with Patillo on the many occasions he was her bus driver as she traveled to and from campus. She included selfies she had taken with him. Her post garnered a lot of attention right away and that made Coleman take it down, but she posted it again because she had a message to share.
“My intention was to draw attention to the fact that rapists can be anyone. They're not a creepy old man with candy. They're people on campus, they're our friends. I think it's important for people to know to help support survivors and to believe them,” Coleman said.
Patillo had even met Carlee's parents when he drove them after a football game and he promised her mom and dad that he'd keep her safe.
“Mr. Patillo was my transit driver on multiple occasions. On football game days, he was a transit of me and my parents. I knew him and every time I saw him, I took a picture with him and would send it to my mom to show her I was being safe and not driving home. In reality, my safety was compromised,” Coleman added.
She has received backlash on social media, some accusing her of trying to get attention with her post.
“I know what it's like to go through this. I wanted to advocate for the victim, or at least attempt to, and to advocate for other survivors I know here on this campus,” Coleman stated. “I want all students to be aware of their surroundings and to believe survivors rapists can be anyone. They're not characterized by age, race, or gender.”
Other survivors have reached out to her after her post, thanking her for sharing.
“It's been a great way to connect,” Coleman said.
It’s been four months since Coleman’s sexual assault.
“There's days when I have to call in to work. I can't go,” she said. “Mine happened in my home. I knew the person and I let him into my home. We were friends. That's the scary part, that it can be anybody and then when I told people, they didn't believe me because they knew him.”
After her rape, Auburn connected her with Safe Harbor, their resource center. She has a victim's advocate that provides her with constant support. She also has weekly counseling sessions on campus.
“All of those things Auburn has set in place to help victims and to help survivors and I couldn't be more proud of my university for offering these things for us,” Coleman said.
She also spoke directly to the victim to let her know she's not alone
“This goes to all all victims of sexual assault and rape, not just her- I do believe you. I do care. Other people have been through what you've been through. Nobody's experience is the same but we do hear your voice,” Coleman added. “Hopefully we can get this epidemic of sorts under control.”
Patillo’s preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 18 at 9 a.m.
On Friday, Auburn University announced new security measures for the Tiger Ten late night bus service. First Transit will implement a program that includes hiring a security firm to place security personnel on each bus.
All First Transit employees at Auburn will be trained in the university’s Green Dot Bystander Intervention program by Oct. 30. The program trains individuals in how to interrupt and prevent acts of violence. Subsequently hired First Transit employees will also go through training before being placed into active service.
First Transit will provide a trained employee to monitor the real-time camera system on the Tiger Ten late night buses and report any suspicious or dangerous activity to the Auburn Police Division. First Transit will work with the university to promote the TransLoc real-time bus tracking system’s feature in which students can communicate to the university about their trip and/or their driver.
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