BY COLIN KRIEGER
A Columbus custodian is being hailed as a hero after he bravely interrupted an attempted rape at a mall restroom over the weekend. The maintenance man reportedly heard screams coming from a restroom inside of Leigh Mall Saturday at 9 p.m. and quickly ran in and tackled Sammie Lee Smith, Jr., 50, of Community Road in Columbus, and held him until help arrived.
According to Leigh Mall Property Manager Gail Culpepper, housekeeper Rodell Hairston was working at the custodial storage area in the Southern end Leigh Mall when he heard screams coming from the area of the women’s restroom. Culpepper said that the announcement had been made that the mall was closing when Hairston heard the commotion.
“He was right where he was supposed to be, and we’re proud of what he did” Culpepper told The Packet Wednesday.
Hairston sprinted to the area, where he reportedly found a younger black female being attacked by a suspect later named as Sammie Smith, Jr. Although Columbus Police declined to confirm the victim’s name, several witnesses on scene that night said she appeared to be no older than 20 years old. Hairston ripped Smith from the victim, who had already had her belt loops torn in the assault, and threw her attacker to the ground. A mall security guard doing a final sweep of the area also heard the screams arrived seconds later and helped detain the degenerate.
Culpepper praised the Columbus Police for their quick response, as well.
“The police were wonderful, they were here within three minutes of the call,” Cullpepper said. “Everybody- all around did a wonderful job.”
The victim was transported to Baptist Memorial Hospital- Golden Triangle in stable condition, and was released shortly after. Sources tell The Packet that she was dropping by the mall with a friend to grab some food from American Deli, which is located just around the corner from where the attack took place. It is believed that her friend was waiting for the food when the attack happened. (A witness on scene that evening told The Packet that the victim’s brother was also nearby-JD)
Security guards had previously banned Smith from the premises, and witnesses said they assume he likely snuck into the mall through the nearby entrance.
“We are very proactive, we take security very seriously- and I think that paid off tonight” Culpepper said, “overall, we are a very safe mall.” Smith is very familiar with the confines of the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, having been arrested 13 times in the last 15 years. Charges include: Three counts each of trespassing, shoplifting and burglary, two counts of simple assault, stalking, disorderly conduct, and both interfering with, as well as disobeying a police officer. He is currently still in Lowndes County Adult Detention Center on a $100,000 bond for Attempted Sexual Battery.
(I have to agree with Leigh Mall Manager that the mall is almost always a safe place to be. I have not heard of much trouble from the property in recent years, and I would credit that to the noticeable security presence in the mall. I usually can count on seeing two or three officers each time I visit. I think this was just about as random of a crime as there could be, and all praise should go to Hairston for his brave reaction. Not all would have been that strong.-CK)