Nine Tips to Stay Safe While Using the Bike Trails

| March 31, 2023

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – The public is on high alert in the aftermath of the homicide of Marcy Suzette Nellis, the 75-year-old Oil City resident whose body was discovered on the bike trail on Monday.

Photo above: Steven Rickenbach walks along the Oil City Bike trail with his mother, Shirley Rickenbach, and their dog, Angel.

In a March 29th press release from District Attorney Shawn White, Coroner Christina Rugh, and Oil City Police Chief Dave Ragon, announcing Nellis’ death as a homicide, the public was advised “to use caution when utilizing trails in our community at this time.”

We reached out to two self-defense experts to get their advice on what the public should do to stay safe on the bike trails.

Rick Capozzi started and teaches Survival Mindset, which educates citizens on how to improve awareness and respond appropriately and quickly in high-pressure active shooter scenarios.

Kitty Richards is an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor and is the Business Development Officer at the International Defensive Pistol Association, an organization that simulates self-defense scenarios and real-life encounters for its more than 25,000 members.

Based on our conversations with Rick and Kitty, here are nine tips to stay safe on our community’s bike trails.

1. Avoid dangerous places.

Traditionally, bike trails aren’t considered dangerous, and Rick is quick to point out that the fact that one terrible incident occurred does not necessarily indicate a trend.

However, bike trails may become dangerous if, for example, you go alone at night.

“Avoid getting on the trail at dusk or at dark unless you’re very prepared or have a group of people,” says Rick (see tip #2).

Use good judgment and trust the little voice inside your head if it tells you to get out of there.

2. Don’t go alone.

It’s always a best practice to travel in pairs or groups while out in public spaces, such as a bike trail. Would-be assailants are less likely to attack two or more people.

If you can’t take another person with you, take your dog.

Kitty says that even if your dog is friendly, it’s a deterrent to people who would do you harm.

“My dog would lick you to death, but the fact that he’s there in the first place may scare that person away,” she said.

3. Become situationally aware.

“Pay attention to your surroundings,” says Rick. “Put your head on a swivel and put your phone away.”

Kitty agrees, saying, “Eliminate distractions. Don’t go down to the bike trail talking on your cell phone.”

She adds that you can play games to train yourself to be aware of your surroundings. She suggests a quiz. When a person passes you on the trail, ask yourself, “What color was that person’s eyes?” or “What color was their jacket?”

People are reluctant to be aggressive if they notice you getting a really good look at them, she says.

4. Be prepared.

Take a cell phone with you. If you’re going out after dark (see tip #1), take a flashlight. Choose one that you may be able to use as a weapon (see tip #8).

As you’re walking, be on the lookout for an exit if something happens. The closest exit, as they say in the safety briefing of every commercial airline flight, may be behind you.

“If you’re on the bike trail, if you have to get away from someone, where do you run? Have a plan in advance,” says Kitty. “It doesn’t have to be a ten-step plan, but think about where you would go to protect yourself.”

5. Tell somebody where you’re going to go.

Knowing when you left and when you’re planning to return can help someone find you and render aid more quickly in the event of an accident or attack. Do this whether you’re going alone or with a buddy (see tip #2).

6. Be confident in yourself.

According to Rick, people who exude confidence are less likely to be attacked.

For many of us, this is easier said than done. But like any life skill, confidence can be learned.

Confidence in something comes through practicing that thing. If you lack confidence in public speaking, for example, joining Toastmasters and participating in their events will help you build confidence when all eyes are on you.

Start physically exuding confidence by keeping your shoulders back and down. When we feel stressed or tense, it’s common for us to lift our shoulders. Resisting this inclination can enhance your poise and give the impression that you are at ease and in charge.

According to CNBC, eye contact projects confidence, self-esteem, and assertiveness (see tip #3).

7. Get self-defense training.

Kitty suggests that you seek out training from many different self-defense teachers to get a well-rounded education. Unlike finishing a diploma or degree, self-defense education shouldn’t ever stop. You’ll never be over-trained.

“We have a lot of trainers in Northwestern Pennsylvania, so you have the opportunity to take all kinds of classes,” says Kitty. “You’ll learn something from every person you take a class from.”

If you’re a woman, look for female-specific training. Some principles are foundational, Rick says, but there are techniques specific to smaller people with less strength when faced with a larger, stronger adversary.

8. Get trained using a weapon.

According to Kitty, the weapon you choose doesn’t have to be a firearm. Choose a weapon you’re comfortable with.

“Almost anything can be used as a weapon,” she says. “A big flashlight with three D cells can be a great weapon. Or maybe a Kubaton.”

Rick adds that you can carry pepper spray or a firearm if you’re adequately trained.

If you choose a lethal weapon, understand that your goal isn’t to kill somebody, it’s to get away from an attacker.

Kitty advises starting with basic pistol training, then moving up to more advanced classes such as drawing from a holster or “defensive pistol.”

Get a carry and conceal permit if you plan to conceal a firearm.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

“I advise more people to not carry a gun than to carry,” Rick says. “Unless you’re willing to get trained and keep current, you shouldn’t carry a gun.”

Kitty agrees, saying if you’re going to carry a firearm, you need to be expending at least 100 rounds a week. Shooting a firearm is a perishable skill, she says. It’s not like riding a bike.

If you can’t afford the ammunition to practice on the range, there are dry-fire activities to keep you sharp. Any reputable firearm trainer can teach you those drills.


Our bike trails are invaluable to the community as a place to get exercise, fresh air, and spend time with friends and family.

Avoiding the trails because of a fear of a violent attack may be worse for your health than the potential of being a victim of a violent crime.

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Category: Community, Local News, News

Gavin Fish is a reporter for EYT Media Group and YouTuber based in Venango County. In addition to his YouTube Channel, he has contributed to investigations and reports for ABC News, Investigation Discovery, and Fox Nation, and has collaborated on projects developed for Netflix, Oxygen, Discovery Channel, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
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