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Jul 9, 2014 9:37 PM by Brin Merkley - KPAX News

Bystanders raced to the aid of woman attacked in downtown Missoula

MISSOULA - A woman's cries of "rape" from the Higgins Street Bridge sent a group of men below into action on Tuesday night.

Reporter Brin Merkley was there moments after it happened, witnessing the arrest - and getting the story from those who came to the rescue.

A group of witnesses told us that they chased down a man who they saw assaulting a woman as she screamed for help. They then jumped into action.

It's hard to say what could've happened to a woman attacked by a stranger Tuesday night on Higgins Street Bridge without the help of these concerned citizens.

"She was yelling he's raping me and we all just booked it up the stairs, chased him a block until we tackled him here and the cops arrived," witness Austin Vandehey recalled.

William Sandel, 28, was arrested for felony aggravated assault and is being held on $50,000 bond after witnesses say they saw him on top of a woman, as she screamed for help.

Missoula Police spokesman Travis Welsh says Sandel came up behind the victim, restrained her arms, and pulled her to the ground - adding that the victim did not know the attacker.

We interviewed Austin Vandehey and several of his friends again on Wednesday. They were sitting below the bridge last night.

"When it first started happening, we thought it was just a joke going on, and then we saw her hit the ground and her legs hanging off the bridge and her yelling help," Vandehey said.

"There was a dude standing over her and he got down, crouched down and he was just on his hands and knees over her," witness Logan Koerne recalled.

"And that's when we just everyone who was around us just jumped up and started running," Vandehey added.

The witnesses say Sandel jumped off the woman and fled northbound and as they chased him into Caras Park witness Travis Morgan says it was another bystander who was playing football who was able to stop him.

"He threw his football at the dude's head and knocked him down."

Meanwhile Koerne says he watched as another bystander jumped in to help.

"One of the ladies who had come by on a bike and was calling the police, she had gotten over the railing before I got up there and was holding her and she was just sobbing and just you know - buried herself into this other woman."

Witnesses say the police arrived after several people had beaten up Sandel, with one allegedly stabbing him in the arm. Police checked Sandel's wounds before handcuffing him and putting him in a patrol car.

Welsh told us that the woman did not suffer any serious physical injuries in the attack, and the investigation is ongoing. Sandel is expected to appear in Missoula Justice Court on Thursday.

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