Pilot charged in series of sex assaults on women at Orange County running trails
An airline pilot has been arrested and charged in connection with a series of attacks on women along running trails in Aliso Viejo, authorities said Monday.
Robert Daniel Yucas, 51, of Cathedral City was arrested last week in connection with several attacks that began in January 2020 after DNA from an arrest in San Diego was matched to the Orange County assaults, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.
Yucas is accused of attacking one woman who was running on the Aliso Viejo trails, another who was skateboarding and a third who was walking. He choked his victims unconscious before trying to sexually assault two of them, and one of the women was raped, prosecutors said.
Authorities say they suspect Yucas, a U.S. Army reservist and pilot who now lives in Riverside County, may have attacked other women because he lived in the Aliso Viejo area from 2017 to 2019.
“We believe there are additional victims because of the pattern and practice of his predatory behavior,” Barnes said in announcing the arrest, which followed a 20-month investigation involving more than 100 deputies and investigators. “What happened to these women will change their lives forever.”
Barnes said investigators received an anonymous tip on Sept. 9 about an incident in San Diego that led them to Yucas. He had had his DNA taken Sept. 4 after being identified as a suspect in another crime.
A rapid test matched DNA from the San Diego case to what was collected from the three victims and their clothes in the Orange County attacks, Barnes said.
Investigators think Yucas’ first attack occurred Jan. 20, 2020, when a 22-year-old woman was skateboarding near Woodfield Park. A man approached the woman and tried to talk to her before grabbing at her, but the woman fought back and screamed until he ran away, Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said.
On April 2, a 32-year-old woman also was grabbed from behind and forced into the bushes near the creek. That woman repeatedly struck her attacker and managed to break free, authorities said.
Most recently, Yucas is accused of grabbing a 41-year-old woman from behind while she walked alone on Aug. 28 on Aliso Creek Trail and dragging her into nearby bushes. The woman awoke about 11 p.m. to find her pants down. Her attacker had fled.
“They were all indiscriminately snatched from that trail,” Spitzer said.
Yucas was taken into custody after landing a plane in Anchorage on Thursday. He was flying for Kalitta Airlines, a large freight carrier, and returning from China, Spitzer said.
In a Sept. 9 interview with KESQ on “Coachella Valley Remembers 9/11,” Yucas, a retired chief warrant officer, revealed he had a laptop filled with images of his time flying transport missions over Iraq.
“I was that young! So much has changed since then,” Yucas said.
He said he wouldn’t be the same person he is now without his military experiences and the good people he met. He first went to Iraq in June 2004 flying VIPs around the war zone during Operation Enduring Freedom. “Back then we were taking a lot of incoming fire. The unofficial nickname for Balad Air Base was ‘Mortaritaville’ because we were always taking indirect fire,” Yucas said.
In 2007, Yucas oversaw California National Guard efforts fighting wildfires; he described having his own family evacuated as he worked.
As recently as last August, Yucas said, he flew 747s loaded with military supplies in and out of Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base.
He is charged with three felony counts of kidnapping in the commission of a sex crime, rape, felony attempted rape and three felony counts of assault with intent to commit a sexual offense. If convicted of all charges, he faces 39 years to life in prison.
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