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Uber driver allegedly sexually assaults female passenger in Avon

AVON — Police are pursuing charges against a male Uber driver who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in August.

Uber Technologies Inc., a ridesharing company founded in 2009, connects passengers to drivers through web-based applications allowing passengers to arrange for rides and pay for driver services using credit cards.

An Uber spokeswoman said Wednesday in an email message the company is troubled by the report and will work closely with local police as they investigate.

Detective Eric Bergen, who is waiting on the results of a sexual assault kit from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said evidence will be presented to a Lorain County grand jury to determine whether the suspect will be charged with a crime.

Police haven’t released the name of the 44-year-old suspect because he hasn’t been charged.

Bergen said around 5:30 a.m. Aug. 16 a 30-year-old Avon woman arranged for a ride from the Highland Park subdivision on Avon Belden Road to the Stonebridge development off French Creek Road. Bergen said the driver dropped the woman off at the Stonebridge development’s pool house and she then called 911 to report she’d been sexually assaulted.

“Our officers immediately responded and found the woman standing in the parking lot visibly upset and crying,” Bergen said.

Police searched the area for the Uber driver’s vehicle but were unable to locate it, Bergen said, but using the woman’s Uber app police were ultimately able to determine the identity of the driver.

Bergen said the suspect wasn’t arrested or charged and he came to the police department with an attorney and cooperated during the investigation.

Bergen declined to comment on the nature of the sexual assault or whether the suspect denied the allegations. He said the driver and passenger didn’t know one another and the driver told police he has been picking people up for about three or four months.

“It was a sexual assault but I don’t want to go into detail on it,” he said.

Uber and Lyft, another ridesharing company, have fallen under scrutiny from many traditional taxi and transportation companies, who say ridesharing companies are putting consumers at risk because law enforcement-based background checks and fingerprinting aren’t performed on drivers.

Dave Sutton, a spokesman for Maryland-based Who’s Driving You, a public safety campaign on behalf of the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association, said limousine and taxi drivers are commonly fingerprinted and checked by law enforcement for criminal histories.

Who’s Driving You maintains an online list of alleged Uber driver crimes reported in the news which includes reports of assault, sexual assault, kidnapping and felons behind the wheel.

Sutton said Uber and Lyft proponents will claim Who’s Driving You is opposed to the ridesharing industry due to its ties to the traditional taxi and limousine industry. However, he said the group wants nothing more than for ridesharing companies to be held to the same safety standards as traditional drivers are.

“They essentially provide taxi service where you have an individual driven around by a stranger for money,” Sutton said. “There’s no reason the safety rules that have been put in place over time to protect passengers shouldn’t also be applied to Uber and Lyft, but frequently they aren’t.”

But proponents of the ridesharing industry have said traditional transportation companies, some holding monopolies in cities across the country, are worried about threats to their profits.

According to information provided by an Uber spokeswoman, the company performs an extensive background check that goes back seven years and looks for names and Social Security numbers in local, state and national databases, including the National Sex Offender Registry, National Criminal Search and several databases used to flag suspected terrorists.

Uber also provided information which says the National Association of Professional Background Screeners disputes the effectiveness of fingerprinting during background checks and acknowledged that no background check process is 100 percent effective so criminals or dangerous drivers may slip through a screening.

Those looking to become drivers must provide full names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, copies of driver’s licensed, vehicle registration, insurance and proof of vehicle inspection. When a passenger books a ride, they can typically see a first name, photo, license plate number and photo of the driver’s vehicle, along with reviews and rating of drivers.

Drivers face disqualification if names appear on sex offender registries or if they have been convicted of DUI, drug offenses, terror acts, violent crimes, fraud, reckless driving, hit and run, any felonies, fatal accidents or thefts, robbery or burglary.

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