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Lake Forest man arrested in sexual assault of woman in Irvine

A 37-year-old man suspected of sexually assaulting a woman in Irvine has been arrested, police announced Saturday.

The woman was sitting in her car at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the area of Harvard Avenue and Coronado Street when she saw Michael Sangbong Rhee standing at her driver’s side door holding a gun, according to Irvine Police Department Sgt. Karie Davies. Rhee allegedly told the woman to get in the back of her car if she wanted to live.

The woman offered to give Rhee her wallet and money, according to Davies. The woman said Rhee responded that they would “do that later ” before he allegedly opened the rear passenger door of the woman’s car, pushed her into the back seat and sexually assaulted her.

The woman yelled to a nearby maintenance worker that Rhee had a gun, Davies said. Rhee exited the woman’s vehicle, ran through an apartment community and got into his vehicle.

Surveillance cameras captured the license plate of Rhee’s vehicle as he was leaving the complex, Davies said. Irvine officers went to Rhee’s residence in Lake Forest and detained him, Davies said.

Detectives obtained a search warrant and recovered several items —including a BB gun similar to the weapon described by the woman — from Rhee’s home and vehicle that linked him to the alleged assault, Davies said.

Rhee was booked at Orange County Jail to face a charge of kidnapping with the intent to commit a sexual assault and is being held on $1 million bail.

Irvine police detectives said Rhee targeted the woman — who is of Asian descent — because he thought she was white, Davies said. Detectives said they believe the alleged assault was retaliation for hate crimes committed against Asian Americans.

Hate crime charges will be added to the criminal complaint filed with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in the case, Davies said.

Anyone with information related to the case can contact Detective Haldor Larum at 949-724-7194 or

Source: Orange County Register

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