(NEW YORK) — When Alison Turkos first noticed that her Lyft driver appeared to be going in the wrong direction, she said her first thought was that he might be trying to “scam me out of $20 or $30 dollars.”
As he became more aggressive, she realized something more serious might be underway. When the car stopped at a light, she said she tried to open the door to jump out, but she realized the child lock was on. As she tried the door on the other side of the car, she said, “the driver pulled a gun on me and I put my hands up.”
“That was when I realized that this was not just someone trying to scam $20 or $30 out of me,” Turkos told ABC News. “It was going to be the worst night of my life.”
The driver would eventually bring her from New York to New Jersey, where he held her at gunpoint, raped her and stood by as two other men raped her, Turkos said.
On Tuesday, Turkos sued Lyft in federal court in California, where the company is based, for what she believes was their negligence and their “appallingly inadequate” response to the “sexual predator crisis amongst Lyft drivers,” the suit states. Earlier this year, she also sued the New York Police Department saying that they mishandled her case.
Lyft did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on this case. They did issue a statement to other outlets, including The Verge, where a company spokesperson said “What this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure. The unfortunate fact remains that one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives — behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform. In this case, the driver passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive.”
Meghan McCormick, one of Turkos’ attorneys from Levin Simes Abrams LLP, said that they felt the Lyft statement was “absolutely offensive.”
“I think Lyft has been on notice since at least 2015 that passengers are being sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers,” McCormick told ABC News.
“They were on notice of the problem and they took no meaningful action to address it,” she said.
The lawsuit comes as ride share safety is at the forefront of crackdowns in other jurisdictions. On the same day that the suit was filed in California, Oregon’s Portland Department of Transportation confirmed to ABC News that they suspended or revoked the permits for 168 ride-share drivers since 2015, including two Lyft drivers who were convicted felons — one convicted of sexual assault and the other for assault with intent to murder.
Last week, Lyft shared a blog post about ways they are expanding their safety efforts, including building the ability to call 911 from within their app and a safety check feature.
McCormick and Turkos want more, however.
“Ultimately we’re seeking systemic change from Lyft,” McCormick said.
The lawsuit, which includes six counts relating to negligence, three relating to employer’s liability, one count of intentional misrepresentation and one of breach of contract, seeks damages and a jury trial. McCormick said that it will be amended to seek declaratory relief in addition to monetary and punitive damages. A petition has been filed to group this along with more than 32 other cases Lyft is facing in the California state court system, McCormick said.
“From the beginning, there was nothing but a robotic response from Lyft. They have never held themselves accountable they have never taken responsibility,” Turkos said. “They say that the safety of their customers and riders is their number one responsibility but they charged me $12.81 to be kidnapped raped and trafficked by one of their drivers which to me proves that profit is their number one priority.”
Since the alleged attack, which Turkos said took place in October 2017, Turkos has emerged as a fierce critic of how ride-share companies protect their passengers and has shared her story on social media.
The criminal investigation has been passed from the NYPD to the FBI, Turkos said, but no arrests have been made.
The ordeal, she said, began when she left a bar in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights at 2:30 a.m., and called a Lyft to make the short trip to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
She said the FBI has requested that she not reveal specific details where in New Jersey she was taken. But she said that when they arrived, “two other men are there waiting for us.”
“I am instructed by the driver who’s holding a gun to take off my clothes… [and] lay down in the back of the car.”
She said that over the course of “approximately 20 to 23 minutes,” the three men allegedly sexually assaulted and raped her.
“They’re laughing, high-fiving each other, cheering each other on,” Turkos said.
Turkos, who was 29 at the time of the alleged assault, said that she had previously been sexually assaulted twice as a teen and “one of the skills I’ve inherited from my past self” is to be able to disassociate from what was going on. The driver then told her to put her clothes back on, she said, and proceeded to take her to her original destination in Williamsburg.
Turkos said that she had “very significant memory loss” after the incident, and didn’t remember the kidnapping at gunpoint or the rape the next morning. But it was clear something was wrong.
“I remembered almost nothing, but my body was so exhausted and I physically could not lift my head from the pillow. I could not move myself from bed,” she said.
She said that she saw on the Lyft app that she was charged $106 for her ride, which was originally slated to cost $12.81. She said she reported the discrepancy to Lyft through the app within 24 hours of the ride, and had a call with the company’s trust and safety department about the ride, but in neither did she mention the alleged kidnapping and sexual assault. She said that the company reimbursed her for the excessive charge but still charged her the original amount of $12.81.
According to the lawsuit, Turkos had a rape kit performed and reported the assault to police two days after the alleged attack. The kit later confirmed “evidence of semen from two men on the clothing” she wore the night of her Lyft ride.
As part of the investigation, when the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit accompanied her to retrace the route taken that night. It was then that Turkos said “all of my memories came back.”
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