September 13, 2016 2:25 pm by Emilie Raguso
A 27-year-old Hayward man dropping off an Uber fare in Berkeley flew into a “fit of rage” when he found his route blocked, then drove into a community service officer repeatedly Saturday night before fleeing police and ultimately being arrested, according to rider and police accounts.
The rider, a UC Berkeley student, and her friend “had to jump out of the moving car after he told us not to get out,” she wrote when she contacted Uber on Sunday.
She was charged $7 for the 4-minute ride. According to Uber, the driver would have had to manually end the trip for the fee to have been charged. The fare has since been refunded.
University of California Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Sabrina Reich said Tuesday that a driver for a ride-sharing service struck a UCPD community service officer shortly before 10:10 p.m. Saturday.
Reich confirmed the driver, M. Bilal, fled the scene but was found nearby and identified as the driver. He was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, the vehicle.
Reich said the officer ultimately reported no injuries.
The rider, a UC Berkeley junior, said the driver was “seemingly nice” at first, until he found the road blocked at Rim Way and Centennial Drive, near the Greek Theatre where a large concert was taking place.
When the officer tried to stop the driver from getting through, the situation escalated.
“He proceeded to swear at the security guard on the road and eventually accelerated into the man hitting him repeatedly with the car with my friend and I still inside,” she wrote to Uber on Sunday. (The email exchange was later shared with Berkeleyside.)
The young woman asked for the $7 charge for the ride to be refunded, as per the email exchange. She also requested a phone call from Uber and noted concerns for her safety in case the driver had access to her personal information.
She received a formulaic email response from a customer service rep identified as Sonali Dhan. Dhan said the fare would be refunded but did not address any of the other concerns, according to the emails.
The student then reached out to her mother, who got in touch with Berkeleyside.
“This is just nuts,” she wrote. “Do you mind taking a moment to read what is happening with Uber in Berkeley?”
Tracey Breeden, an Uber spokesperson, confirmed Uber had received feedback Sunday about an incident “very similar to what was provided” to her by Berkeleyside, though she said she could not confirm the driver’s name due to privacy rules.
Breeden said the driver had been suspended pending further investigation, and that his access to the Uber platform had been removed.
“We look into all allegations when we receive feedback like that,” Breeden said.
Breeden said Uber tried to contact the rider by phone and email but, as of Tuesday afternoon, had not been able to reach her.
The driver, she said, will remain suspended from the app until he is able to provide evidence or information, such as court documents, showing that there was no charge or conviction.
Breeden said Uber has its own team that investigates any incident that involves police, and that Uber takes security and safety very seriously. She said Uber’s incident-response team is on duty 24-7 to handle reports from riders and drivers alike.
If Uber receives feedback indicating a driver has been arrested or was driving dangerously, the service immediately and automatically suspends that driver until an investigation can be done, she added.
If the investigation finds those allegations to have been true, a driver can be suspended from the app for life, Breeden said.
The woman’s mother told Berkeleyside, ultimately, she is just grateful her daughter is safe.
“The driver was found and arrested and my daughter and her friend were advised to avoid Uber, by the police, as they do not conduct background checks,” she told Berkeleyside. “He suggested they use Lyft, in the future, as they do [conduct those checks].”
Bilal is no longer in custody and no further information was immediately available about his case.