Pando

Your monthly helping of serious ridesharing allegations

By Nathaniel Mott , written on September 13, 2016

From The Sharing Economy Desk

This roundup is delayed because I spent almost a week in Washington, DC around Labor Day.

One of my biggest worries about visiting the nation’s capital was the prospect of having to use a ridesharing app to bounce between the various museums, restaurants, and other attractions my wife and I wanted to see on our vacation. Those concerns were unfounded: We were able to walk everywhere we wanted to visit, ultimately racking up a little over 25 miles in just four days.

I was happy about this small victory while I was on vacation. I was even more happy once I started hunting for stories to include in this roundup, because even though many people use services like Uber or Lyft without encountering any of the problems described here, there’s always the chance that my wife and I would have become a paragraph in stories like this one. I think you’ll understand why I want to avoid that once you read even a few of the items below.

Drivers behaving badly

First, an Uber driver accused of raping a teenager in Boston headed to court on August 14. The driver, Darnell Booth, allegedly drove the teenage girl to a parking lot on July 5 and raped her after she reached out to him on Snapchat for a ride. He wasn’t driving for Uber at the time.

Then a Toronto woman alleged that an Uber driver pulled her out of his vehicle after an argument. She’s said to have fractured a finger and suffered from several scratches. Part of the incident was recorded on video; Toronto police said at the time that an Uber driver was arrested in relation to the incident but did not confirm that it was the same person shown in the video.

Reports surfaced on August 16 of an Atlanta woman who said her Uber driver sexually assaulted her. The male driver allegedly began to assault her “a short while into” the drive, and to later push her out of the vehicle when she scratched him to make him stop. The woman was able to call 911 and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment after he left her on the road.

English Gardner, an Olympic sprinter, said an Uber driver stole her phone in Rio on August 16.

On August 18 a Los Angeles Uber driver named Ramon Iribe was arrested for carrying “a knife, drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine” after running a red light with passengers in his car. Iribe is said to have a criminal history  — which includes a domestic violence arrest and misdemeanors — that weren’t caught by a background check due to outdated court records.

A day later, an Uber driver in Florida was arrested for allegedly raping three women. The driver, Xolani Mtsitsha, claimed that one of his accusers offered him oral sex in exchange for a ride, while the other offered to have sex with him because she didn’t have any money on her. Police have asked any other victims in the Boynton Beach area to contact them with further details.

Mumbai driver Shehbaaz Shaikh was arrested on August 20 for molesting a foreign passenger in the back seat of his vehicle. Shaikh allegedly told the passenger to sit in his front seat; when she refused, he entered the back seat “to clean it” and ran his hand up her thigh. He stopped when the woman screamed. Uber said that Shaikh has been suspended from its platform.

Just a few days later, on August 23, a Drexel University student said she was sexually assaulted by her Uber driver. The student booked the ride via Uber Pool, and even though her stop was closer than that of a male passenger’s, the driver took the man home first. He then started to touch her; she got out of the car and screamed for help when the driver stopped at a red light.

Also on August 23 a Williamsburg cyclist said an Uber driver left his car, yanked her off of her bike, and threw her to the ground several times. Police officers discouraged the cyclist from pressing charges despite an abundance of witnesses, declined to provide an accident report, and then forced the cyclist and the Uber driver to shake hands before promising to lecture him “like a little girl.” The driver was later arrested. Though both Uber and Lyft say he wasn’t driving for them at the time  — despite one of his passengers claiming to have hailed him via Uber — the driver has been permanently removed from Uber’s platform as a result of the altercation.

On August 29, a London comedian named Hannah Warman was taken on a 35-mile detour while she slept in an Uber driver’s vehicle. The trip should have taken a few minutes. Instead, it took around 90 minutes and cost Warman £85. Uber refunded Warman for the expensive trek.

An Uber driver in Boston was accused of exposing himself to two female pedestrians on the same day. The driver, Paul Griffin, was arrested in March for the same crime. Massachusetts has asked to meet with Uber to figure out how the company can be made aware of arrests that occur after someone has passed a background check and started driving for the company.

On August 30, an Uber driver in Boston was arraigned on charges of “assault and battery on a person over 60 years old and larceny over $250” after he allegedly entered a disabled woman’s home and stole a handbag with “several hundred dollars” inside and some medicine. The driver, Wilson Brea, wasn’t hailed via Uber’s app but was instead called directly because he had given the woman rides in the past. The thefts allegedly occurred after he asked to use the bathroom.

The next day, an Uber driver in Bayan Lepas  — the capital city of a state in Malaysia — was sought by police for allegedly stealing RM2,000 in cash and valuables from an Indonesian factory operator. The driver was accused of stealing RM1,150 in cash; two million Rupiahs; a necklace; and a phone.

Another Uber driver in Boston was arraigned on September 2 after he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman. Police initially allowed the driver, Michael Vedrine, to leave without his car and his cellphone. Vedrine was later arrested when he used a payphone to call the woman.

Also on September 2 an Uber driver in Oswego, Illinois was accused of using a passenger’s credit cards after she forgot them in his backseat. Farzad Khamissi turned himself in on August 9 after he put more than $500 on the cards at a number of local businesses. He’s been charged with four counts of felony unlawful use of a credit card and released on bond until his court date.

Next we come to Pinellas Park, Florida where Christopher Thomas Cuccorillo was accused on September 6 of “tampering with the rear window of the condo” where he dropped off two women earlier in the day. Cuccorillo was arrested; charged with loitering and prowling; and permanently removed from Uber’s platform after the two women reported the incident to Florida police.

Two days later an Uber driver in Pennsylvania was charged with assault for threatening four passengers who slammed his doors on June 25. The driver, Junior Presly Justin, allegedly showed the passengers a gun in his waistband and said "if I see you again you'll be sorry.”

Fake drivers become more of a problem

On August 18 a man named Donaldo Velasquez was arrested in Carrollton, Texas for killing a man with a knife. The victim and his girlfriend entered Velasquez’s car because they thought he was the Lyft driver they had summoned after a night out. Velasquez is said to have played into this belief before killing the man after the two started arguing at some point during the trip.

Just a few days later a man posing as an Uber driver attempted to sexually assault a woman in Woodbury, Illinois. The woman is said to have fought him off and escaped. Police are said to have a description of the man and his vehicle; they did not explain how exactly he managed to convince the passenger that he worked for Uber.

Something similar happened on August 26 in Atlanta. There a woman said an Uber driver sexually assaulted her; police investigating the incident later said that they believe her attacker posed as a driver so he could lure her into his vehicle. The driver later pushed her out of the car.

On September 8, 18-year-old Samuel Texidor was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman at the University of Massachusetts. Texidor reportedly told the woman he was an Uber driver and offered her a free ride. Police are investigating to see if Texidor did the same to other women.

Finally, on September 10, reports surfaced of fake Uber drivers scamming tourists at the US Open by “waving printed signs with the Uber logo and swarming fans as soon as they leave.” Some drivers are charging $100 for rides between the event and Manhattan hotels; the trip should normally cost just $40. Uber has asked NYC officials to crack down on the scammers.

Passengers being dicks

A woman berated her Lyft driver for having a Hawaiian bobblehead on his dashboard. The two are shown arguing in a video that is making its rounds online as the female passenger tells her driver to take down the doll because it’s offensive. The two argue, she calls him a “fucking dumbass idiot,” and he eventually asks her several times to leave his car before she complies.

On August 18 a Lyft driver in San Francisco was robbed by “three armed bandits” who forced him withdraw cash from an ATM. The driver was summoned to pick up someone who later canceled the ride. After that, two women and a man “jumped in his car, brandished a knife, held him at gunpoint and roughed him up.” The driver is said to have suffered only minor injuries.