Authorities said they are investigating whether Uber driver Jason Brian Dalton may have given a harrowing ride to a passenger shortly before he allegedly embarked on a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that killed six - and that he may have continued picking up fares in the middle of the rampage.
Ultimately, investigators may decide that there was no reliable way to predict that Dalton would, during a single shift on the job, morph from his identity as a driver into his role as a alleged mass killer. Police say Dalton didn't have a criminal history.
An Uber spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about Saturday's incidents, told The Washington Post that Dalton had passed a background check required for the company's drivers.
The incident comes just weeks after Uber settled two class-action lawsuits for $28.5 million that accused the company of exaggerating the safety of its background checks. Although the company used phrases such as "safest ride on the road" and "industry-leading background checks," the suits claimed, it did not check Uber drivers against the national sex-offender registry or employ fingerprint identification.
"We learned of systemic failures in Uber's background checks," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said in reference to the lawsuits, according to Forbes. "We have learned they have drivers who are convicted sex offenders, thieves, burglars, kidnappers and a convicted murder."
Saturday's shooting in Kalamazoo appeared to begin with a bizarre twist.
A man told a local television station that an Uber driver who looked like Dalton picked him up about 90 minutes before the shooting rampage began.
"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," Matt Mellen told WWMT News. "He wouldn't stop. He just kind of kept looking at me like, 'Don't you want to get to your friend's house?' and I'm like, 'I want to get there alive.' "
Mellen said he contacted police and Uber about the wild ride. Then he recognized the face when local media posted photos of the alleged shooter.
"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 told WWMT.
Uber drivers without criminal histories have committed crimes before.
Patrick Karajah, 26, a driver in Pacifica, California, had no criminal record. But in 2014, he pleaded guilty to felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury. Officials said he struck a 25-year-old passenger in the head with a hammer, fracturing his skull, after an argument about the route Karajah was taking.
Uber has defended its screening process. In a detailed statement explaining the procedures in July, the company said that all drivers must undergo a screening process performed by Checkr, which Uber said is "nationally accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners." Along with several other checks, the company searches federal, state and local databases for convictions going back seven years.
Critics have said that seven years doesn't peer far enough into a potential driver's past. But the company has said that seven years "strikes the right balance" between protecting the public and offering "ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves."
At the same time, Uber's terms and conditions emphasize that passengers accept risk by riding in one of their vehicles.
"You understand, therefore, that by using the application and the service, you may be exposed to transportation that is potentially dangerous, offensive, harmful to minors, unsafe or otherwise objectionable," Uber's terms and conditions read.