This month in serious ridesharing allegations
Uber driver Keith Avila helped a 16-year-old girl escape a sex trafficking ring after he overheard two older women say the runaway teen would be delivered to a “John” waiting at a Holiday Inn.
Avila immediately called the police after he dropped off the passengers at their hotel. The women were arrested, as was the man waiting for them, and the girl moved into alternative housing. Uber praised Avila for calling the police and said the others involved were banned from its service.
That was the happy story from the last month. Here are the other headline-making incidents — none are even half as cheerful, and many involve other Uber drivers allegedly sexually assaulting their passengers. Avila might have saved that girl’s life, but one good deed shouldn’t overshadow the many horrible things that have been by other people driving for the ride-hailing platform.
Drivers behaving badly
An Uber driver was accused of assaulting a New Jersey man who wanted a ride back home from a holiday party in Philadelphia. The victim, Joseph Fusco, was left with several missing teeth and broken bones in his face. Fusco has filed suit against Uber accusing the company of negligence and fraud. The driver’s identity hasn’t been revealed; Uber said it’s assisting in the investigation.
A disabled man from Leeds, England said January 16 that an Uber driver refused him a ride and left him on the side of the road because his wheelchair wouldn’t fit in the vehicle’s trunk.
Also on January 16, a former Uber driver in San Antonio named Gabriel Vazquez was arrested for sexually assaulting a 22-year-old female passenger in October 2016. The victim said she was intoxicated when she hailed an Uber, and that Vasquez followed her into her home, stripped her down to her underwear, and sexually assaulted her. Vazquez is being held on a $50,000 bail.
On January 10 a London man said an Uber driver kicked him and his friends out of the car when two of them kissed each other on the cheek after a party at a gay club. The driver allegedly said he didn’t want “gay stuff” in his vehicle, became agitated, and kicked out the group. Uber is said to have responded to the incident, but the exact nature of its response hasn’t been made public.
This one’s a little more ambiguous. Uber driver Corey Robinson, who was taken on a high-speed chase when he let a passenger drive his vehicle while he napped, sued the passenger and Uber for negligence. Robinson said the incident left him “sick, sore, lame, and disabled” and that none of the incident was “due to any negligence or culpable conduct” on his part. Alrighty then.
On December 29 a former Uber and Lyft driver in San Diego named George Vague was sentenced to a year in prison and three years probation for exposing himself to one female passenger and sexually assaulting another. Vague also had to register as a sex offender. Both ride-hailing companies booted him off their platforms after he was arrested in September 2016.
A day earlier, an Arizona woman accused her Uber driver of abandoning her 75 miles away from home on Christmas. The woman “had complications from undergoing numerous surgeries in recent weeks” and hailed the ride from a Las Vegas hospital. The driver lost cell service halfway through the trip and offered the woman an ultimatum: ride back to Vegas or stay at the Chevron gas station where he had pulled over. She opted for the latter. Uber said it would review the incident and pointed out that driver and rider ratings would “keep all participants accountable.”
Shortly before Christmas an Uber driver made a left turn in front of actor Miles Teller, causing him to crash into the Uber driver’s vehicle. Teller’s truck flipped over, but neither he nor his girlfriend were harmed in the incident.
Now for another dose of ambiguity: On December 20, an Uber driver in Florida shot and killed someone who attempted to rob him at gunpoint. Uber has a strict no-weapons policy that prohibits both drivers and passengers from bringing guns into a vehicle. (Vehicles the company doesn’t own and are driven by non-employees, mind.) Yet the driver was acting in self defense and wasn’t arrested. Police said the assailant didn’t appear to be targeting Uber drivers.
There’s no ambiguity here. An Uber driver in Michigan stabbed a passenger five times on the night of December 17 for “disrespecting” his vehicle by rapping on its window. The driver, Jacob Allemon, was barred from Uber’s platform. The company said it would assist police with their investigation; Allemon’s passenger was injured but still survived the multiple stab wounds.
A few days earlier, in Toronto, Uber driver Orjon Leska was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman. Details are scarce, but Leska has been removed from Uber’s platform.
It was also revealed December 13 that San Antonio officials kept quiet sexual assault allegations from someone who might have posed as an Uber driver. The assault happened in October, but the San Antonio Business Journal’s request for moreinformation didn’t receive a response until December, shortly after officials voted to negotiate new contracts with ride-hailing companies.
On December 6, an Uber driver in Pittsburgh named Jehad Abdula Makhoul was charged with indecent assault and harassment. Makhoul was accused of making sexual advances on a female passenger who booked a ride to a nearby restaurant on November 22. The woman pushed him off, got inside the restaurant, and called 911. She wasn’t physically harmed in the incident.
Passengers being awful
Silicon Valley co-star TJ Miller was accused of being high on whip-its (nitrous oxide canisters) when he attacked his Uber driver in December. The driver said he and Miller got into an argument about President-elect Donald Trump that quickly became violent. Miller was arrested for the attack and then released on a $20,000 bail.
A Los Angeles Uber driver named Folesha Parker-Iverson was killed in a two-vehicle collision on January 14. The driver was a 52-year-old woman who died at the scene; his passengers were trapped in the vehicle and had to be helped out by emergency responders. The other vehicle’s driver fled the scene on foot but was later apprehended. It’s not clear what caused the accident.
On January 9, an Uber driver in Miami was kidnapped and forced to live-stream his passenger-slash-captor robbing a bank and giving away the money. The man also made a bomb threat and said that he planned to turn himself in to police after giving the stolen money to poor people because he wanted to speak to Congress about claims that Russia hacked the election.
A few days earlier, an Uber driver in Atlanta was shot when two people robbed a father and daughter at gunpoint. The driver originally tried to leave the scene, but he hit a utility pole and came to a stop a few feet away; he was taken to a nearby hospital in stable condition.
On December 31, a Chicago Uber driver was shot while driving by what is believed to have been a gang-related shooting. Another victim appears to have been the intended target; both are OK.
A 31-year-old Uber driver said at the end of December that a man followed him for a few blocks and then shot at his vehicle. San Francisco police confirmed that the shot was picked up by their ShotSpotter system. The driver, an Afghan refugee, did not share his name for fear of his safety.
On December 20, another Uber driver said she was threatened at gunpoint by two passengers, one of whom also grabbed her teenage daughter’s arm. The dispute apparently started because the passengers believed the unidentified driver was headed in the wrong direction. The woman then drove to a nearby gas station to let the two brothers, Matthew and Jeffrey Melloy, out. Matthew was charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon; Jeffrey with making a terroristic threat. The woman said she the incident prompted her to quit driving for Uber.
Finally, on December 14, a 67-year-old Uber driver was choked and carjacked in Bradenton, Florida. The driver survived the incident, and the carjackers — John Suggs and Michelle Bager — were both arrested. Unfortunately, they weren’t caught until after they totaled the vehicle.