Two couples and a woman were assaulted and robbed, and in one case raped, at Mile Square Park over the last 10 days, prompting authorities to urge the public to avoid nighttime visits to the Fountain Valley recreation area.
Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said police patrols are being stepped up in the area to capture the man believed to be responsible for the three attacks.
The park is an oasis of lakes, tennis and golf facilities, as well as picnic areas and trails. It is also a haven for joggers, skaters and others, many of whom seek it out to exercise, even after dark.
"We advise people not to go to the park at night," Amormino said. "It's a beautiful park in a low-crime area, but it does close at 6 p.m., and no one should be at the park, especially a lone woman."
The latest attack occurred Saturday near Euclid Street and Edinger Avenue when a man approached a couple near a picnic area about 10:30 p.m.
Amormino said the gunman ordered the man to lie face-down on the ground and raped the 18-year-old woman from Garden Grove before fleeing with the man's cellular phone.
On Jan. 15, a man police believe to be the same attacker threatened a woman in her 40s who was jogging near Warner Avenue and Euclid Street -- also about 10:30 p.m. But she convinced him not to rape her, and he fled with her purse, Amormino said.
Police said the same man is believed to be responsible for a Jan. 12 attack at 8:30 p.m. on a couple who were sitting at a picnic area about 250 yards from the site of Saturday's attack. The man at first threatened to rape the woman but fled after he took cash and jewelry from the couple.
In each case, the man wore a black ski mask and hooded sweatshirt, threatened victims with a knife and a gun and fled on a bicycle, police said. He is described as 5 feet 11, with a stocky build. He speaks Spanish and English.
On Tuesday evening, joggers said they would take extra precautions until the attacker is caught.
"Maybe I'll come back in the morning," said Carlos Gutierrez, 27, of Costa Mesa, who was taking a stroll with his girlfriend.
Delores Aguirre, 20, of Santa Ana, who frequently stops at the park after work, said she'll have to find an exercise partner.
"There's a lot of people around here and a lot of cars, so I was never concerned," Aguirre said. "Now I have to think twice about coming here alone."