Uber customer: I almost rode with alleged shooter
Carmen Morren’s plan had been for a late get-together after work with some of the gang from Olive Garden, her boyfriend and his friend — a typical Saturday night in Kalamazoo.
She’ll remember it for different reasons, both tragic and alternately hopeful.
Near the end of the night, Morren and her boyfriend were just minutes from hopping into a dark SUV driven by Jason Dalton — the Uber ride home they’d scheduled by phone.
By that time, Dalton is alleged to have killed six people at random. He was charged Monday with six counts of murder and authorities said he told them he committed the shootings, but not why.
Morren and her boyfriend, Dillon Thompson, had scheduled an Uber pickup for just after 11 p.m. from the Main Street Pub on Gull. And Dalton’s picture soon popped up as their driver on an automatic confirmation notice.
The couple were unaware of the terror Dalton had allegedly been causing during the previous five hours.
But Morren and Thompson hadn’t completely committed to the idea of leaving.
“Right around 11 p.m., Dillon had no drink left in his glass and I had a little left,” Morren said. “We were hemming and hawing about whether to go or not.”
Believing they would be charged a penalty if they didn’t call off the ride within five minutes, the couple canceled it. Within minutes, they’d reversed course again and ordered up another ride — this time with a different driver.
Neither Morren nor Thompson realized what had been going on until they got to their Vicksburg home, just south of Kalamazoo. It was a text from Morren’s sister-in-law, who had been following the news developments in Texas, that finally alerted them to the situation.
“I’d say it was around 11:30 p.m. or so ... she sent me a text, which was out of the ordinary at that time of night,” Morren said. “She was asking if I was OK.”
Dalton was arrested at 12:40 a.m. Sunday, roughly 90 minutes after Morren and Thompson first connected with him on Uber for the ride that was canceled.
On Monday, Morren was in a reflective mood. In the space of 36 hours, she said she’d come to feel blessed about what seems like a near miss with possible tragedy.
“We’ve been humbled, or maybe you could say (we’re) in awe,” Morren said. “I definitely think it was a higher power that kept us safe.”
In the aftermath of the shooting spree, many have sought to find fault with Uber. Morren is not one of them.
“We don’t blame Uber at all,” she said. “Obviously, Mr. Dalton cleared all his background checks and seemed like a blue-collar kind of guy — no obvious red flags.”
Earlier Saturday, Matt Mellen had a harrowing ride with Dalton, who drove through stop signs and sideswiped cars, the Associated Press reported. When Dalton came to a stop, Mellen jumped out and called police.
Mellen told Kalamazoo television station WWMT that he hailed a ride around 4:30 p.m. Saturday. He said the driver, Dalton, introduced himself as “Me-Me” and had a dog in the backseat.
Mellen sat in front. About a mile into the trip, Dalton got a phone call, and when he hung up, he began driving erratically, Mellen said.
“We were driving through medians, driving through the lawn, speeding along, and when we came to a stop, I jumped out of the car and ran away,” Mellen said. He said he called police and that when he got to his friend’s house, his fiancée posted a warning to friends on Facebook.
Mellen said he also tried warning the ride-hailing service.
“I’m upset because I tried contacting Uber after I had talked to the police, saying that we needed to get this guy off the road,” Mellen said.
Uber security chief Joe Sullivan told the Associated Press the company received complaints about Dalton from several passengers Saturday, including one about dangerous and erratic driving. Sullivan wouldn’t say whether that report came from Mellen.
Sullivan said Uber immediately suspends drivers who are accused of violent acts. But in the case of erratic driving, it typically contacts the driver first to make sure it hears both sides. Sullivan wouldn’t say whether Uber contacted Dalton on Saturday night, referring questions about the timeline of events to law enforcement.
The San Francisco-based ride-hailing service says Dalton cleared a background check and was approved to be a driver Jan. 25. He had given slightly more than 100 rides and had a rating of 4.73 stars out of a possible five.
“I don’t think that we will change our screening processes as a result of this incident,” Sullivan said. “No background check would have flagged and anticipated this situation.”
Since Dalton’s arrest, several people have come forward to say that he picked them up for Uber in the hours after the first attack. The Associated Press could not immediately confirm those accounts.
Uber is working closely with law enforcement, Sullivan said, and is providing GPS locations of Dalton’s car and other information to aid the investigation
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said Uber is cooperating with law enforcement officials, and he believes the company will “help us fill in some timeline gaps.”
Investigators are particularly interested in communication between Dalton and Uber, as well as customers he might have driven, the sheriff said.
A spokeswoman for Uber confirmed that Dalton was a driver for the company, but she declined to say whether he was driving Saturday night.
Uber prohibits both passengers and drivers from possessing guns of any kind in a vehicle. Anyone found to be in violation of the policy may be prohibited from using or driving for the service.
Associated Press contributed.