Between 2018 and 2022, at least 10 women in Denver called the ride-hailing service Lyft after a night out for a safe ride home, but ended up being kidnapped and sexually assaulted instead. Some woke up in a stranger’s bed or back at home with no idea how they got there, with their cellphones, wallets, and underwear missing. On October 19, the Denver District Attorney’s Office announced they had made an arrest and filed formal charges – 41 felony counts of sexual assault, kidnapping, and attempt to sexually assault.
Although this incident happened in Denver, it made nationwide news, including the Washington Post, because of its chilling and disturbing nature. Just about everyone uses rideshare services like Lyft and Uber, believing it to be a safe and convenient alternative to other forms of transportation. Any of us reading this story, especially women, likely think, “it could have been me.” Authorities believe John Pastor-Mendoza, the man they arrested, abused his position as a rideshare driver to kidnap and sexually assault women outside of Denver bars.
Driver was targeting victims outside clubs
Per the Washington Post, “Investigators allege in court documents that Pastor-Mendoza had a pattern: targeting seemingly intoxicated women hailing rides alone outside clubs and bars in downtown Denver, then assaulting them in his car or at his home.” Although Pastor-Mendoza was a Lyft driver, the company told the Post that they had no record of those particular rides on their schedule, which points to the fact that he was likely offering rides off the books and on his own time.
Lyft also made the following statement: “The behavior described is absolutely appalling, and the driver has been permanently removed from the Lyft community. We have been in touch with law enforcement to assist with their investigation and stand ready to provide support in an ongoing capacity.”
The first incident that came to attention of authorities happened four years ago outside a Denver bar when a woman who was separated from her friends hailed a rideshare. The next morning she woke up in a strange bed with Pastor-Mendoza touching her. She left on foot and later discovered several of her personal items missing, including her phone, bank card, and underwear.
Per Pastor-Mendoza’s arrest warrant, this pattern continued over and over with many different women, all describing similar experiences – being picked up alone outside a bar, waking up in a strange room, a sexual assault, missing bank cards and underwear. Some women were assaulted in the back of the car; some women recalled a physical struggle before blacking out.
Tracking down a sexual predator
After speaking with the victims and noticing this pattern, police worked with a local bar in the area, asking staff to look for a man matching Pastor-Mendoza’s description. An employee notified them of the suspect, and upon searching Pastor-Mendoza’s home, police found (per the Post):
…a woman’s bank card and a box with 18 cellphones. Investigators traced the items back to women who’d previously reported they’d been raped, court records state. DNA samples taken from three of the victims pointed to Pastor-Mendoza as the suspect in those cases, investigators determined this summer.
He was arrested in August. A search warrant revealed Pastor-Mendoza also drugged his victims, with authorities finding “tranquilizers, amphetamines, muscle relaxers, hallucinogenic drugs and marijuana concentrate” in his residence.
Rideshare services and sexual assault
In October 2021, for example, Lyft finally released their Community Safety Report, two years after Uber released theirs. The Safety Report revealed 4,158 reports of sexual assault between 2017 and 2019, including 360 reports of rape.
Per Lyft, sexual assault is defined as:
- Attempted Touching: Non-Sexual Body Part
- Non-Consensual Touching: Non-Sexual Body Part
- Attempted Kissing: Sexual Body Part
- Non-Consensual Touching: Sexual Body Part
- Non-Consensual Kissing: Non-Sexual Body Part
- Attempted Kissing: Non-Sexual Body Part
- Attempted Touching: Sexual Body Part
- Non-Consensual Kissing: Sexual Body Part
- Attempted Non-Consensual Sexual Penetration
- Non-Consensual Sexual Penetration
If you were sexually assaulted while using a rideshare or ride hailing service like Lyft or Uber, our South Carolina attorneys believe you and we want to help. We understand you are already traumatized and don’t want it to happen again. You have several options for reporting your assault:
- Notify the platform of the incident. Both Uber and Lyft have policies regarding sexual and physical assault and should take steps to remove the driver from the platform. You can find these phone numbers or links within the app.
- Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline, online or at 1-800-656-HOPE. They can listen, help, and provide local resources and support.
- Contact law enforcement to file a criminal complaint.
You also have the right to file a civil suit against the person who sexually assaulted you. Our attorneys can investigate as to whether you also have a case against the rideshare company for negligence.
If you were sexually assaulted in a Lyft or Uber, the South Carolina attorneys at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC want to help. To schedule a no-cost case review with a compassionate and experienced lawyer, call our offices or fill out our contact form today. Your consultation is always confidential.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood