Saturday, Sep 23, 2017
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Abduction renews horror of ’90 case

Scars for ‘the rest of my life,’ but woman chooses to be a survivor

Robin Gardner cried when she learned the news.

Though she now lives many miles from northwest Ohio, Friday’s arrest of a rural Delta man in the alleged abduction of 20-year-old Sierah Joughin of Metamora hit close to home.

In the summer of 1990, Ms. Gardner was a 26-year-old living in Whitehouse. On a hot and humid Independence Day she decided to ride her bike from her cul-de-sac neighborhood, down Obee Road to Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.

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Gardner

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That bike ride would come to an abrupt end when James Worley forced her off the road and dragged her to his truck. He was found guilty of abduction in Lucas County Common Pleas Court and served about three years in prison for the crime.

The day of the attack, as she was struggling with the 6-foot-2 stranger on the side of the road, Ms. Gardner said, she thought of everything she hadn’t done: Unmarried. No kids. Her life had barely begun.

“I was so angry that I fought, and I almost passed out. I remember this feeling of like black curtains,” she said. “I just really wanted to live.”

He forced her into the truck and snapped handcuffs on one wrist, according to Ms. Gardner and court records.

She screamed. She fought. She tried to stall him.

When she saw a motorcyclist drive by she said she made sure to flail her body, hoping the biker would notice something odd happening inside Worley’s truck.

When he let go of her, she took her opportunity to slide across the seat and out the door. She ran straight to the motorcyclist, who had stopped farther up the road. She jumped on the bike, told him she needed help, and he took her home.

“I walked in and my poor mother, she was making potato salad for a neighborhood picnic. I walk in with this strange man, disheveled with handcuffs,” Ms. Gardner recalled.

Exhausted, she said she fell to the floor, hyperventilating. The police were called and an ambulance arrived. Ms. Gardner said she was loaded into the ambulance and driven back to the Obee Road scene.

Worley, it turned out, had remained at the side of the road. Later, he would claim that he had argued with Ms. Gardner about who was at fault in the collision. 

In a long, typewritten, first-person memorandum he filed with the court in an attempt to get out of prison early, Worley maintained that the bicyclist had turned in front of his truck, which he used to run a lawn service, and that she immediately accused him of intentionally hitting her. Worley said that when Ms. Gardner tried to leave, he grabbed her arm and handcuffed her wrist.

“All I wanted was to attach her to something stationary so as to prevent her from leaving until the police or someone else arrived,” he wrote.

He would later argue that his decision to stay at the scene proved his innocence. In his court filing, he recounted how after the incident an ambulance arrived and an officer grabbed him by the neck and shoved him toward the emergency vehicle’s open hatch.

“I saw Robin Gardner surrounded by people, strapped to a backboard, crying hesterically (sic) out of control. The ambulance crew tipped the backboard toward the window so she could see me. Robin Gardner then started screaming ‘Yes, that’s him, that’s him,’” he wrote.

Ms. Gardner also recalls the experience. Someone tilted her stretcher so that — despite wearing a neck brace — she was face-to-face and eye-to-eye with the man from whom she had just escaped.

At some point, she said someone asked Worley about those handcuffs — shackles he later told the court he purchased five years before for $3 and hung from his rear-view mirror as an ornament.

But Ms. Gardner described a more chilling response.

“They said, ‘Well, Mr. Worley, why did you have handcuffs in your truck?’ and he winked and said, ‘Novelty purposes,’ ” she said.

Worley, who old court records indicate admitted to “extensive” marijuana use and sales as a young teen and adult, was imprisoned for abduction from November, 1990, to December, 1993.

Ms. Gardner suffered a concussion, skull fracture, bruises, and cuts, according to court records. The turmoil left other lasting wounds.

“I have scars for sure the rest of my life ... and I just don’t want him on the streets again. He is not a good person,” she said.

When prosecutors asked her how she wanted the case to be resolved, she said she had a swift reply: “An eye for an eye.”

She said she still wants that kind of justice.

The three years he spent in prison were too short, a flicker compared to the lifelong suffering she endured.

“I can’t go bird watching. I can’t go hiking, and I love to be in the woods alone, and I can’t. He stole that from me,” she said.

Still, Ms. Gardner said she made a choice to not let the ordeal overshadow the rest of her life. She’s put miles between her and that old history, has a boyfriend, and lived to see her many nieces get married.

She treats the 4th of July more like a birthday than the actual day she was born.

“I remember thinking, ‘I have a choice right now to be a victim or a survivor,’ and if I choose to be a victim and hate men and fear men and be scared of life and be scared of living my life then I am giving him all the power,” Ms. Gardner said.

Worley’s arrest Friday on another abduction charge didn’t surprise her, she said. 

Ms. Joughin, the missing University of Toledo student, was last seen riding her bicycle Tuesday on a rural Fulton County road. The bike was later found abandoned amid trampled rows of corn. Authorities announced Saturday that her body had been found.

Ms. Gardner said she has reached out to investigators in the Fulton County case and wants to help. Authorities declined to publicly discuss the 1990 abduction case, and Worley declined an interview request through a jail spokesman.

The woman who considers herself a survivor said her thoughts now are with Ms. Joughin and her family, especially her mother.

“I just want to give that mom a hug,” Ms. Gardner said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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