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Girl escapes at Flying J

| Monday, Nov. 20, 2006

A waitress at the truck stop near Smithton aided the crying teenager.

Quick-thinking employees at a Smithton-area truck stop helped a 15-year-old escape from a man who police allege tried to sexually assault the girl.

The 15-year-old girl sought help Saturday night at the Country Market Restaurant and Buffet at the Flying J travel plaza on Interstate 70.

A waitress, Emily Morris, 25, said the girl asked a hostess to let her use a phone.

"She was crying," Morris said. "She said she was kidnapped."

State police at Belle Vernon said the girl left California without her mother's knowledge. They charged Joseph Simon, 37, of Los Angeles, with indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors in connection with the incident.

Morris said she took the girl to a back office so she would be out of sight. After the teen called 911 and her mother, state troopers arrived and took the girl with them.

Troopers asked employees to call them if anyone came looking for the girl. Two hours later, a man who was later identified by police as Simon, came into the restaurant and asked if anyone had seen the girl, Morris said.

"My gut hit the ground," she said.

Morris said she called 911, then worked to keep Simon at the restaurant until police arrived.

"I tried to play the part," Morris said. "I said, 'Do you think someone took her?'"

She said Simon identified himself as a friend of the girl's. Simon said the girl disappeared after he fell asleep in his tractor-trailer.

Morris and an assistant manager then walked out into the parking lot with Simon, pretending to help him look for the girl. When a cook, 35-year-old Aaron Bowen, of Scottdale, and a male dishwasher learned the women were alone with Simon, they went outside.

"I yelled at them afterward," Bowen said. "I said, there were two guys working here tonight. There was no need for you to go out alone."

Morris said troopers arrived with 10 minutes and took the man into custody. Morris said she acted quickly to help the girl because she would want others to do the same for her loved ones.

"It was not like I was trying to be heroic," Morris said. "I just felt that it was the right thing to do."

State police allege Simon, while at the truck stop, touched the girl inappropriately in an attempt to have sex. The girl refused.

Police said criminal charges were filed before Scottdale District Judge J. Bruce King. Simon was lodged in the Westmoreland County Prison last night, pending arraignment.

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