LAKE GENEVA -- A 38-year-old man has been charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in view of passersby in a public area on the edge of downtown Lake Geneva.
Jason W. Connell, who told police he was homeless, is accused of assaulting the teen around 2:40 p.m. Aug. 4 near a historic railroad bridge over the White River just north of Main Street.
Although the site is shrouded by trees, it is adjacent to a city park and is just steps away from storefronts and tourist attractions in the city's downtown business district.
Community leaders are expressing shock over the accusations, and city officials are taking steps to improve security in the area where the alleged attack occurred.
Mayor Tom Hartz said the city plans to clear away trees to create an area that is more open and is not so concealing.
Of the alleged assault on the teen, Hartz said: "It's sad. It's disappointing. It's tragic. And it will be responded to."
The director the nearby Geneva Lake Museum said she was shocked to learn that a teenage girl had allegedly been attacked while patrons were visiting the museum on a Sunday afternoon.
"That is just awful — and in broad daylight," museum director Janet Ewing said. "We can't have that going on in our community."
Connell has been charged with four counts of sexual assault of a child, each a felony carrying a possible prison term of 40 years.
He is being held at the Walworth County Jail on $20,000 bond, with a preliminary hearing in the case scheduled for Aug. 19.
According to a criminal complaint issued by the Walworth County district attorney, the alleged incident on Aug. 4 was not the first time that the 15-year-old girl had encountered Connell.
The girl told investigators she had met Connell the previous day at a friend's house on Country Club Drive in Lake Geneva. Connell was there as a guest of the friend's mother, and he gave the young girls alcohol, according to the criminal complaint.
He then fondled and sexually assaulted the 15-year-old girl on a bedroom floor, prosecutors charge.
The next day, the girl headed to the historic railroad bridge near downtown to take a walk, and she encountered Connell again.
According to the criminal complaint, several people walked past while the alleged assault was taking place in public view, including juveniles who alerted police that they saw two people having sex.