BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY — An Interlochen man could spend years in prison after authorities said he molested two young girls.
Walter P. Eldridge, 31, is charged with six counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person under 13. He was arraigned Thursday and remains in the Grand Traverse County jail.
Authorities said Eldridge repeatedly molested two girls. They are related to one of Eldridge's female acquaintances.
Grand Traverse Sheriff's Department Capt. Dave Meachum said the victim or victims are acquainted with the suspect in "well above 90 percent" of molestation cases.
"Once they begin to gain trust, they start doing things they obviously shouldn't be doing," he said. "It's very disheartening."
The alleged molestations happened over a period of about a year, according to a police report. The girls told Eldridge's female friend, who called police. Eldridge also contacted police shortly before that call to turn himself in.
Sex crimes against children must continue to be a topic of discussion among officials in schools, law enforcement and various community groups, Meachum said.
"We didn't even talk about this sort of thing 30 or 40 years ago," he said. "The more that we talk about it ... the likelihood of it occurring goes down, and if it does occur, the quicker children feel they will be able to talk about it."
Parents and others who care for children are encouraged to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity
"When the hair's going up on the back of your neck and you've got a gut feeling, you need to explore that a little bit," he said. "It's OK to take the extra precaution to protect kids."
Vigilance will only go so far, though.
"Sometimes, the clues just aren't there, and that's unfortunate," Meachum said.
A preliminary examination is scheduled for Dec. 13. A first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge carries a potential penalty of life in prison.