By Dave Rogers Staff Writer
The Salem News
---- — TOPSFIELD — A Topsfield Fair sausage vendor pleaded not guilty yesterday to raping a 30-year-old woman Monday night just as this year’s 11-day fair was coming to an end.
Paul Richard Carson, 44, of Rochester, N.H., is being held on $25,000 cash bail following his arraignment yesterday before Judge Peter Doyle in Ipswich District Court in Newburyport.
According to the Topsfield police report, the victim was walking down a dark alley close to a row of bathrooms by the Ferris wheel around 10:30 p.m. when a man grabbed her and slammed her head against the exterior of the bathroom.
The man, who, according to the victim, smelled of alcohol, covered her mouth with his hand, threatened to kill her if she screamed, then sexually assaulted her as she struggled. The sight of several young children and their parents may have frightened the suspect off, according to the report. He threatened to kill her if she told police, the victim said.
After the attack, the victim ran into the bathroom and locked herself in a stall. When another woman in the restroom asked if she was all right, the victim told her what had happened. That woman notified police, prompting a search of the area for the man fitting the description offered by the victim.
The victim described the suspect as roughly 5 feet 10 inches tall with shaggy sideburns and messy brown hair, wearing a cream-colored cowboy hat, a dark blue or black shirt, blue jeans, and a Topsfield Fair identification card hanging from his neck. Carson, who matched the description offered by the victim, minus the cowboy hat, was picked up by police minutes later in between the bathroom and the rabbit building.
Carson denied attacking the woman, saying he was smoking a cigarette and calling his girlfriend at the time of the alleged incident. Police were allowed by the suspect to search his trailer and quickly found a cream-colored cowboy hat.
Topsfield police Sgt. Richard Lebel said that incidents involving fairground vendors and ride operators have occurred in the past, adding that the department has investigated sexual assaults at the fair, as well. But he couldn’t recall the last time his department investigated a rape charge stemming from the fair.
“Anytime there’s any type of sexual assault, it’s disturbing because you have victims,” Lebel said.
The Topsfield Fair poses a major logistical challenge for local law enforcement, who work in conjunction with state police and officers from several nearby departments. Each year, police make several arrests for drug possession and distribution, domestic assault and battery, and traffic violations, officials said. Just prior to Carson’s arraignment in Ipswich District Court yesterday, another Topsfield Fair vendor was arraigned for allegedly selling Vicodin tablets inside the fairgrounds.
Topsfield Fair spokesman David Thomson said he couldn’t comment on the alleged rape, calling it an ongoing police matter. Asked if there had been prior incidents involving vendors, Thomson said he didn’t know of any since he started working for the fair three years ago.
“The fair is 194 years old, so there may have been,” he said.
Carson is expected back in court on Nov. 8 for a probable cause hearing.