By Stephanie Barry | firstname.lastname@example.org
on February 27, 2016 at 12:18 PM, updated February 27, 2016 at 2:15 PM
HAMDEN, CONN - Adding to Uber's publicity woes following a driver's deadly shooting spree in Michigan last week, police have arrested a man they say raped a woman while posing as a driver for the company.
Hamden police arrested 29-year-old Ahmad Bahjat of New Haven on Friday, according to a story published by WTNH.
Investigators say they responded to Yale-New Haven Hospital on Jan. 31 for a report by an alleged victim of sexual assault. The woman had left a New Haven bar and walked to a parking area designated for Uber and taxi drivers, according to police.
Bahjat pretended to be an Uber driver and the woman got into his car, believing he was the Uber driver she requested, police said.
Uber is a wildly popular car service that allows users to quickly summon rides through a smartphone app. The drivers are independent contractors and use their personal vehicles to shuttle fares. Fans of the service say it has revolutionized ride-sharing by adding new levels of convenience and access through technology.
Police said Bahjat, an Iraqi refugee who fled the country following the alleged attack, "viciously sexually assaulted" the woman. She bolted from the car, leaving several personal items behind, according to investigators. She suffered injuries to her neck, wrists and knees, police said.
They added that they found several pieces of evidence supporting the woman's account after seizing the car.
Police say Bahjat is a 2012 refugee from Iraq and has an immigration status of "Permanent Resident-Non-Citizen." Within 24 hours of the alleged attack, Bahjat fled the United States, taking a flight to Toronto, then to Turkey and on to Jordan. An arrest warrant was issued, officials said.
On Feb. 11, police say U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained Bahjat at JFK International Airport while he was trying to re-enter the country. He was jailed in New York. On Friday, Hamden Police arrested Bahjat and charged him with first-degree sexual assault, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree unlawful restraint, the news outlet reported.
He is being held on $500,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court on March 11, police said.
The alleged incident in Connecticut occurred just weeks before an authentic Uber driver went on a killing spree in Kalamazoo, Mich., in between picking up fares in that area.
Jason Brian Dalton - who had working as an Uber driver since January - opened fire at random over the weekend. In addition to the six people killed, a mother and a 14-year-old girl were injured. None of the shooting victims was an Uber fare, according to news accounts.
The married father of two had no criminal history, and Uber officials said he had received high marks from passengers.
While this was the first mass killing linked to an Uber driver, it is not the first assault connected with the service.
Alejandro Done, a 47-year-old Boston man, was in October sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for raping and strangling a woman (a fare) in that city in 2014.
Uber outsources its background checks. The ride-sharing service came to Western Massachusetts in 2015.
The local service only offers Uber's cheapest option: uberX. It initially offered the same fare structure as in Boston - $0.21 per minute, $1.20 per mile, a $2 base fee and a $1 "safe rides" charge. The service area covers a roughly square chunk of the region with North Adams, Greenfield, Sheffield and Springfield at its edges.
In January, Uber decreased pricing for the service here and in Worcester by 35 and 25 percent, respectively, citing a dip in demand after the holidays.
Uber also has clashed with conventional taxi services and local government in Massachusetts and elsewhere. In June, Uber berated Cambridge's licensing commission as clinging "blindly to the past" when the board discussed regulating ride-share services.
Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed a law that would bring Uber and its competitor, Lyft, under state regulatory authority.