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'You Aren't The Shooter, Are You?' Uber Ride Came Just Before Suspect's Arrest

Victims of a shooting spree are being mourned in Kalamazoo, Mich., where Jason Dalton, the man suspected of killing six people Saturday, was arraigned Monday. Police are trying to determine a motive for what seem to be random attacks.

Eerie details have emerged about the case — including a witness's account of getting an Uber ride from Dalton, 45, who was a driver for the ride-hailing service. The witness tells NPR that he rode with Dalton shortly before the suspect was arrested in the center of town — and that they briefly discussed the shootings.

"Dalton was driving for Uber that night and stopped after midnight to pick up Derek — who asked NPR to only use his middle name because he's afraid of retribution from speaking about his encounter," NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

That encounter occurred after midnight, more than six hours after the first of three shootings — and during a manhunt that had police on the lookout for a Chevrolet like Dalton's.

Here's what Derek told Hansi:

"I jokingly said to the driver, 'You aren't the shooter, are you?' and he either shook his head or said no, and I said, 'Are you sure?'

"And his response wasn't like you would expect, like a laugh. It was just very calm and quiet. It was, 'I'm just tired. No, I'm just tired.'"

Dalton was arrested about a half-hour later, Hansi reports. On Sunday, Uber confirmed that Dalton was a driver and had passed the company's background check. Police have said he did not have a criminal record.

Michigan State Police believe Dalton is the man who fired around 10 shots outside an apartment complex around 5:42 p.m. ET Saturday, wounding a woman who is now listed as being in serious condition.

That woman, whose name hasn't been released, is "a hero," Kalamazoo Sheriff Richard Fuller tells local TV news WWMT. Explaining that she was in an area where several children were when the shooting started, Fuller says, "This person put themselves between the children and the shooter, right away."

The violence continued more than four hours later, when a father and son — Richard Eugene Smith, 53, and Tyler Daniel Smith, 17, both from Kalamazoo — were shot and killed at the Seelye Ford Kia car dealership.

That shooting was reported at 10:08 p.m. Minutes later, the third shooting was reported, at a parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant. That's where police say four women were killed after two vehicles — a Chevrolet Cruze and an Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan — were fired upon.

State police released the names of those victims Sunday:

  • Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda, Mich. (driver of Oldsmobile minivan);
  • Mary Jo Nye, 60, of Battle Creek, Mich. (driver of Chevrolet);
  • Dorothy Brown, 74, of Battle Creek, Mich. (rear driver-side passenger of Chevrolet);
  • Barbara Hawthorne, 68, of Battle Creek, Mich. (rear passenger-side passenger of Chevrolet).
  • A 14-year-old girl who was a passenger in the Chevrolet survived the shooting and was listed in critical condition late Sunday.

    Prayer vigils and remembrances were held for the victims last night. Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered Michigan's state buildings to fly the state and U.S. flags at half-staff for the next six days, to honor each of the six who died.

    On Monday afternoon, Uber's Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan told reporters that Dalton had received positive feedback from riders and had a 4.73 rating (out of 5). Sullivan said Dalton had cleared all background checks and received his Uber credentials on Jan. 25, completing more than 100 rides before the shootings late Saturday.

    Uber also defended the background check process, saying that no screening would have flagged the suspect because he had no criminal record.

    When asked about the timeline of Saturday's events, the company cited the ongoing criminal investigation and declined to say specifically how many people contacted Uber about the suspect's reported erratic driving, or when and how law enforcement discovered Dalton was an Uber driver. As the Two-Way previously reported, at least one person warned others against driving with Dalton in a Facebook post on Saturday evening.

    The company did say, however, that when it receives complaints about bad driving, it does not immediately suspend the driver's account, as it does when it receives complaints of violence.

    Margaret Richardson, an attorney on Uber's Safety Advisory Board, said she didn't think it was "equitable that Uber has to answer for Dalton's alleged actions when another company in a different industry wouldn't necessarily have to." She also said that the focus on Uber's safety policies was a distraction from the larger problem of guns in the hands of people who should not have them.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Laura Wagner
    Bill Chappell
    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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