New Orleans student Ciaya Whetstone is the latest person to die after taking an Uber ride. She was just 21 years old when an unknown Uber driver dropped her off at a hospital at 6:40 a.m. in late February. The police report read that “she was blue and her pupils were fixed and dilated.” She had “no obvious signs of physical injury” and was pronounced dead at 7:07 a.m. The report further stated that they were told the driver who dropped Ciaya off at the hospital was driving a 2019 Toyota Camry and said he was an Uber driver. Police went to the man’s last name known only to discover he was not home.
It’s been confirmed that Ciaya hailed an Uber driver at around 1 a.m. It’s not yet clear if the driver who picked her up is the same one that dropped her off at the hospital hours later. Ciaya’s death is now the subject of a police investigation.
“Ciaya had been at a Mardi Gras parade, and there’s just a big-time gap until when [the driver] dropped her off,” her cousin Grace Sutton told an ABC news station. “So we really don’t know. I just pray she didn’t suffer and I just hope we get the justice she deserves.”
Sutton’s sister, another cousin of Ciaya, told the ABC station that the family’s main concern is “we just want answers and wanna know what happened.”
Sadly, this young woman’s death is not the only Uber-related fatality to make the news recently.
Uber has reportedly launched an investigation into Ciaya’s death and deactivated the account of the driver who picked her up.
“Our thoughts are with Ciaya Whetstone’s family as they grieve the loss of their daughter,” an Uber spokesperson told PEOPLE in a statement. “We stand ready to assist law enforcement with their investigation.”
Ciaya is not the first person to die after using a rideshare service. In 2019, 21-year-old college student Samantha Josephson mistook a stranger’s car for an Uber ride and climbed in. Her body was later found in a remote woodland area 65 miles away and covered in 120 stab wounds. The driver, Nathaniel Rowland, was convicted of murder.
Josephson’s death cast a national spotlight on ridesharing safety and led to some changes, such as requiring driver’s licenses to be more prominently displayed.
Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft have hundreds of times more sexual assault accusations than traditional taxi cab services. But the taxicab industry has sharply declined since rideshare services came onto the market with low barriers to entry for drivers and cheap fares for riders. Some answers to the question of “Why do rideshare drivers appear more likely to assault their passengers?” can be found in examining the requirements to becoming a driver.
Rideshare companies typically use a third-party company called Checkr to conduct their background checks. This is an online service that varies by local and state law. It only checks the applicant’s record as far back as seven years. The background check is re-run annually.
In contrast, taxi companies usually use the fingerprint database run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct their background checks for new drivers. This system looks at an applicant’s lifetime record, with FBI information dating back to 1924. They typically run a single background check when a person applies, with no need for yearly re-runs.
Taxis usually provide more training and the industry has a more formal accountability system for its employees. Rideshare drivers are part of the “gig economy” and much less accountable to the companies they work for compared with normal employee obligations and reporting systems.
Regardless of the cause, it’s a tragedy that yet another young person lost her life after getting in a rideshare vehicle. Hopefully, the police investigation can provide answers to what happened to her, providing closure for her family and perhaps valuable information that can prevent more of these tragedies from happening in the future.