Crime

Bellingham man sentenced for groping teens at bus station

A Bellingham man must serve three months of jail time for groping two teenagers in three days in January at the Cordata bus station, a Whatcom County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday, July 7.

A 19-year-old woman reported a man walked up to her in a smoking shelter as she waited for a bus around 10:45 a.m. Jan. 7, according to charging papers.

He sat next to her and asked for a light. She lit his cigarette. Then he started to rub her thighs. She told him to stop. He stopped, but moments later he reached out and grabbed the woman’s breasts.

She walked away as he called out to her. “Sexy pictures?” he said. “Sex?”

Police responded to the bus station at 4194 Cordata Parkway to find a man, Lakhbir S. Grewal, 56, who seemed “clearly intoxicated,” according to the charges. He spoke only in Punjabi. He was taken to jail, where one of the corrections deputies speaks the language fluently. Grewal told the deputy that he’d touched the woman.

Officers linked the case to a similar one two days earlier, on Jan. 5, when an East Indian man approached an 18-year-old stranger at the bus station around 3 p.m. The man asked the teen if he liked alcohol and if he wanted to go to his apartment. Grewal’s address on Westerly Road is a third of a mile from the bus station.

The teenager declined and tried to walk away, but the man asked him for a hug – which seemed odd to him, but the teen hugged the man anyway, according to charging papers. The man reached down and grabbed the teen’s crotch over his clothes. The teenager pushed him away and called 911.

By the time officers reached the bus station, the man was gone.

After Grewal’s arrest, police showed his photo to the young man, who said he was “100 percent sure” that was the person who sexually assaulted him.

Grewal – wearing a purple turban, an orange, red and green flannel shirt, and jeans – spoke through an interpreter as he pleaded guilty Thursday, July 7, to assault in the third degree and attempted assault in the third degree with a sexual motivation.

The deputy prosecutor, Jonathan Richardson, told the judge his priority was for Grewal to be required to register as a sex offender. That determination will come later.

Grewal’s three months of time can be served on jail alternatives, Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder ruled. Snyder also handed down a year of suspended time in jail, as suggested by the plea deal.

Neither victim spoke at the hearing. Grewal made no comment to the judge.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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