A downtown Palo Alto businesswoman walking through the Homer Avenue underpass at Alma Street was attacked by a man on Tuesday morning, Palo Alto police and the victim said.
Nina, 77, who has owned and operated Tailor Plus for 43 years and whose last name is not being used for her safety, said she was traveling through the underpass connecting to Palo Alto Medical Foundation's offices at about 8:05 a.m. when a man pushed her from behind. As she turned to see what happened, he struck her twice in the head with a heavy bag, causing her to nearly fall down. He then yelled obscenities at her, she said.
She said she takes the bus to work and usually gets off at the Palo Alto Transit Center bus depot, but recently she has walked through the Homer tunnel because the bus drops riders off near the Medical Foundation due to a city construction project at the Palo Alto Transit Center bus depot.
"At that time there are lots of students walking and riding their bicycles nearby, but yesterday there was nobody," she said.
The man, who was in his 40s or 50s, was carrying two bags and appeared to be disturbed, according to Nina.
"There was something inside that was so heavy," she said of the bag that he used to hit her once from behind and once in her face as she turned around.
She said she felt dizzy and used the tunnel wall to support herself and keep from falling.
"It could have been worse. I tried to keep standing up. If I fell down, I don't know what would have happened," she said.
She went to police headquarters to report the crime and ask for more officers to patrol the area.
"There are lots of kids on bicycles going to school all the time," she said.
Palo Alto police Sgt. Brian Philip said the attack was not an attempted robbery, but it was a battery by a person who appeared to be having a mental health crisis. Police have not located the man.
"Palo Alto is typically a safe place. This was unusual," he said. But he added that officers are aware of homeless persons who may stay in or near the tunnel and who frequent the other underpass and tunnels between University Avenue. On-duty police frequently patrol both the Homer Avenue and Caltrain tunnels, he said.
Nina said she felt dizzy for most of Tuesday, but she feels better Wednesday. At about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, just hours after she was attacked, a young woman came into her store and asked to remain there for a while. The woman told Nina that she was being bothered by a homeless man and that she was afraid, she recalled.
Nina said she fears the tunnels near the Caltrain station, which she said are worse than the Homer underpass, but now she is afraid to travel under the Homer location alone.
"Today when I took the bus a man helped me to walk through the tunnel," she said. "I asked him if he would help me and walk this way with me because I was afraid," she said.
Anyone with information about the attack is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the police's free mobile app, downloadable at bit.ly/PAPD-AppStore or bit.ly/PAPD-GooglePlay.