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Booking photos for Mark Saunders and Tigistu Belete Ergo.
Booking photos for Mark Saunders and Tigistu Belete Ergo.
Boulder Police Department

Boulder Uber, Lyft Sexual-Assault Busts Part of Disturbing Local, National Trend

The Boulder Police Department recently arrested a pair of Uber and Lyft drivers on sexual-assault charges. These separate but equally disturbing incidents are only the latest local busts related to ride-sharing services, and they echo the findings of an Uber study that catalogues thousands of offenses nationwide ranging from kissing and groping to rape and even murder.

Westword has reported on numerous crime accusations tied to Uber. They include an Uber driver's April 2015 arrest for allegedly trying to burglarize a client's home, an October 2015 knife-point robbery in which an Uber driver was the victim, and a November 2015 claim that an Uber driver sexually assaulted a sleepy passenger. In February 2019, David Rosenthal was on his first drive for Uber when he was carjacked and killed. And this past October, Uber driver Michael Hancock, who shares his name with Denver's mayor, was found not guilty in the fatal shooting of a passenger circa June 2018.

The overwhelming majority of Uber rides here and beyond are completed without harm to anyone, as the aforementioned study confirms. But the analysis also reveals that there were 2,936 sexual assaults reported to Uber in 2017, and that number rose to 3,045 the following year. Of the latter total, 235 pertained to rapes, while the remainder involved other forms of assault, with victims including passengers and drivers alike. Such complaints have led to multiple lawsuits against the company, as well as the removal of more than 40,000 drivers from the service — a number Uber touts as evidence that its procedures to screen for past criminal and driving records have improved.

Nonetheless, nine people were killed after hailing an Uber ride in 2018, the report reveals, and 58 died in crashes.

The recent arrests in Boulder include that of 41-year-old Mark Saunders, whose arrest affidavit begins with a woman's call to the Boulder Police Department on February 15. She subsequently told investigators that she blacked out after drinking, and upon returning to consciousness, she was only wearing a shirt. Shortly thereafter, a memory of a man's face over hers led to her discovery that she'd ordered an Uber ride the previous night. The face she recalled matched the photo of the driver on the Uber app: Saunders.

A sexual-assault examination followed, and in November, DNA found during the test scored a hit with a sample from Saunders stored in a Florida law enforcement database — a discovery that led to his arrest on December 27.

Uber responded to the news with a statement that reads: "What’s been described is horrible and something no one should ever go through. We’re working with law enforcement to support their investigation and continue to look into the incident. The driver no longer has access to the Uber app."

Several days prior, on December 24, Boulder Police took 27-year-old Lyft driver Tigistu Belete Ergo into custody on suspicion of sexual assault and kidnapping. Afterward, Lyft offered this response: "Safety is fundamental to Lyft. The behavior described is unacceptable, and we have permanently removed the driver from the Lyft community. We have been in contact with law enforcement and will continue to help in every way we can."

Click to read the Uber 2017-2018 U.S. Safety Report.

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