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CEDAR POINT: A failure to protect young workers

The park rehired an accused rapist and allowed him to live in employee housing where he attacked again.

SANDUSKY, Ohio — Kacie Wilson has an artistic snapshot of herself and a friend squatting down in front of the Cedar Point sign. The women have their hands over their heads, their hands cupped together into a sign of a heart. 

The picture was taken in 2018, when Kacie was 18 years old. It was a testament to her lifelong love of one of America’s most popular amusement parks. 

It's a place that draws many young people each summer to play and work, hoping they'll make memories and get to be part of special, fun atmosphere many associate with Cedar Point. It's not the sort of environment where young job seekers or their families expect a man accused of multiple sex crimes to work and live among unsuspecting potential victims.

The same summer that Kacie snapped her souvenir photo, another woman went to the Sandusky police and said she was sexually assaulted in a Cedar Point employee-housing unit by a co-worker, Donelle Fowlkes.

Credit: WTOL

The following summer, Kacie met Fowlkes for the first time when he offered to give her a ride on his back after she was locked out of her room in the employee housing building while barefoot. 

“He made sure I was OK the whole time,” she said. 

RELATED: Cedar Point issues statement after sexual assault allegations

She felt comfortable enough with him that she agreed to come over to his apartment to watch Netflix on Sunday night, the day before she was to have her first shift at Cedar Point. 

After finishing her McDonalds, she fell asleep. 

“I woke up to him inside of me, and I pushed him away, and I just got up and I just left,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.” 

But she went to the hospital, filled out a police report and called her parents, who helped her quickly move things out of her apartment. It was there that they ran into an interested bystander – Fowlkes. 

“He’s standing over to the side, staring at me and my parents as we’re packing up our vehicles with my stuff,” she said. 

No stranger to the system

When Sandusky detectives interviewed Fowlkes about the assault, records show it wasn’t their first interaction with the man. In September, 2018, another woman told police Fowlkes assaulted her. But at some point, the woman no longer wanted to proceed with the case, according to Sandusky police Chief Jared Oliver. 

But Fowlkes was still indicted on sexual battery charges in June, 2019, for both Cedar Point cases after the DNA found in Kacie’s rape kit got a hit in a police database. It turns out that Fowlkes’ DNA was in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) because he also was accused of raping a third person in 2017, a woman in Toledo. Toledo police took that case to the Lucas County prosecutor, but Julia Bates’ office decided against pursuing charges. However, that case gave Erie County prosecutors additional ammunition to pursue charges in the 2018 and 2019 incidents. 

RELATED: Cedar Point sexual assault survivors seek justice

In September, 2020, Fowlkes pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting Kacie. The charge from the 2018 incident was dismissed. Fowlkes was then sentenced to three years in prison. 

11 Investigates reached out to Fowlkes in prison, and he declined to comment.

When asked how a man who was accused of assaulting women in 2017 and 2018 could be hired to come back to work at Cedar Point in 2019, Chief Oliver said. “You’ll have to ask Cedar Point’s human resources department that question.” 

A two-month investigation, completed with the help of sister stations WKYC in Cleveland and WBNS in Columbus, found that there have been 27 allegations of sexual assault inside Cedar Point housing units since 2017.

Unanswered questions

On April 21, in a second request for comment from park officials, we wrote that officials needed to address how a man accused of assault multiple times was rehired in 2019. It is not known if Cedar Point could have known about the uncharged incident in 2017 before he was employed in 2018. However, he was accused of sexual assault in a Cedar Point housing unit in 2018.

Tony Clark, the director of communications for Cedar Point Amusement Park, did not answer that question in an April 22 email response, but he did say that "Cedar Point takes these matters seriously. All reports of associate misconduct are immediately responded to, reviewed, and if appropriate, escalated to local law enforcement for further investigation."

RELATED: Elected officials express shock over Cedar Point sexual assault revelations

On April 18, 11 Investigates initially submitted a request to interview Cedar Point’s vice president of human resources and our request was denied because there was no “interview availability.”

We'd like to ask Cedar Point officials if they have a policy about performing criminal background checks on employees who will be living in the amusement park's staff housing, about what protections they have in place to assure the housing is safe for employees, about whether any of their policies have changed in the wake of Fowlkes' 2020 conviction in one of the park's housing units.

Kacie said it’s frustrating to her that Fowlkes was even in position to assault her. 

“I just don’t think Cedar Point really does a good job. They do a background check, but I feel like they need the workers, so they will hire anybody. They just care about the money and not the people.” 

It’s a view shared by other former employees we interviewed for this series, including Raven Jones, who said she was raped in an employee housing unit by a co-worker. Her case remains open. 

“They’re allowing this to happen, and it’s unsettling.” 

Contributing: Silas Tsang.

Are you a sexual assault survivor who needs help? We have links here to resources in Ohio, Michigan and across the country. 

Do you have a tip for 11 Investigates? We want to hear from you! Email us at 11Investigates@wtol.com.

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