ROGERSVILLE - Regina Johnson has literally been looking over her shoulder the past few nights when she drives home from her job as a night clerk at the Lakeside Market on Highway 11-W near Rogersville.
Johnson was one of the two female clerks on duty Tuesday night when a woman who says she was raped on the highway by a man impersonating a police officer came to the store afterward seeking help.
Johnson told the Times-News Thursday she nearly panicked Wednesday night while driving home from work when a police car pulled out behind her and activated its blue lights. It turned out to be a legitimate police officer who wasn't after her and continued on down the highway.
"I saw those blue lights come on, and I about panicked," Johnson said. "I said to myself, if he pulls me over I'm not stopping. I was near where I pull off (the highway) to go home, and if he tried to stop me I was going to keep going on home.
"The other girl I work with was in front of me, and it scared her too. It's awful to think something like that could happen."
It was Johnson who called 911 Tuesday night around 11:30 p.m. when a 22-year-old Hawkins County woman entered the market with torn clothing and said she'd been raped by a man impersonating a police officer.
Johnson said the woman's shirt was ripped, and her pants were torn.
"She was all tore up and couldn't even hardly tell us what was going on," Johnson said.
The victim told Hawkins County Sheriff's Office investigators that she was driving westbound on Highway 11-W Tuesday night when a white four-door sedan resembling an unmarked police car activated a single blue dash light behind her. The woman told police she stopped on 11-W, probably near the Marble Hall Road intersection.
The assailant then forced her out of the car at gunpoint, took her to the side of the highway, tore her clothing and raped her, according to reports.
After the assailant drove away from the scene, the woman went to the Lakeside Market to seek help.
Sheriff Roger Christian said Thursday that his department continues to vigorously investigate this incident but doesn't yet have a suspect. Investigators have, however, received numerous potential tips.
Most of the tips were from people who recognized the car description, and Christian said he is hopeful that tipsters will begin providing license plate numbers.
The victim was still very upset as of Wednesday and was unable to give investigators a specific description of her assailant, Christian said. Her description of the car was vague.
As of Thursday, investigators were planning to show the victim photo arrays from convicted sex offender registries in hopes that she recognizes the man. Christian said his deputies will also be canvassing nearby stores in case the assailant stopped to make a purchase and was caught on video surveillance.
Investigators are hoping to have a composite sketch of the suspect within a day or two.
"No one can really feel safe on the road while you've got someone like this on the loose, and obviously we're very anxious to catch this person," Christian said.
Christian is still advising caution for any motorist who is uncertain that they're being pulled over by a legitimate police officer. He said the motorist should slow down, activate the right turn signal, and proceed to a well-lit or public location before stopping.
As a store clerk working late into the evening, Johnson said she fears for herself and other women who have no choice but to drive alone at night. When she and co-workers have to exit the store at night, they now go out in pairs.
"We were scared to go home that night because we didn't know which way that (rapist's) car had took off," Johnson said. "We park our cars on the side of the store, and the boss lady told us to now be sure to park out front where it's brighter, and to have somebody out there with us when we go to the car.
"It's real scary here at night, especially after all this happened."
Anyone with information about the Tuesday night rape is asked to contact the HCSO at 272-4848.