A new report has revealed that the operator of the self-driving Uber car that killed a woman in Phoenix was a convicted felon.
Fox News reports that the operator of the self-driving Uber car that killed a female Pedestrian in Phoenix recently was a convicted felon with court records showing that the man served nearly four years in prison on charges of attempted armed robbery. The felon, Rafaela Vasquez, 44, was at the wheel of the car as it was in self-driving mode, a feature being tested by Uber in many cities across the U.S. and Canada. 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was walking a bicycle outside the lines of a crosswalk when the self-driving vehicle operated by Vasquez hit Herzberg who later died in a hospital.
According to court records, Vasquez has a criminal record in Arizona under a different name and was released from prison in 2005 after serving three years and 10 months in a state prison for attempted armed robbery and unsworn falsification. Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said that fault has not yet been attributed as the investigation is still ongoing, but clarified that the self-driving car was traveling at 40 mph when it hit Herzberg. “The pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk, so it was midblock,” Elcock said. “And as soon as she walked into the lane of traffic, she was struck by the vehicle.”
Temple Police Chief Sylvia Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle after reviewing videos of the crash that “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.” Moir continued to say that “it is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available.”
Moir also stated that Uber may not be held accountable for the self-driving car accidents saying: “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident, either.” However, Moir further stated that this case presented “new ground” in terms of legality and that Vasquez, the operator of the car at the time of the crash, may still face charges.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed his condolences for Herzberg and her family on Twitter shortly after the incident took place. Uber suspended their self-driving car tests that were still ongoing in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto at the time of the crash.
Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened. https://t.co/cwTCVJjEuz
— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) March 19, 2018
Uber has declined to comment on Vasquez’ past convictions or the company’s hiring policies, but this is not the first time the company has hired felons. In November 2017, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission conducted an investigation which determined that Uber had hired nearly 60 drivers with previous felony convictions, this resulted in Uber receiving a fine of $9.8 million.
According to Colorado state law, those with previous felony convictions for alcohol or drug-related driving offenses, major traffic violations and sexual offenses are not permitted to work for ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. PUC director Doug Dean said in a statement at the time “We have determined that Uber had background-check information that should have disqualified these drivers under the law, but they were allowed to drive anyway. These actions put the safety of passengers in extreme jeopardy.”
Uber spokesperson Stephanie Sedlak at the time claimed that the hiring was the result of a “process error that was inconsistent with Colorado’s ridesharing regulations and proactively notified the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.”
“This error affected a small number of drivers and we immediately took corrective action,” Sedlak said. “Per Uber safety policies and Colorado state regulations, drivers with access to the Uber app must undergo a nationally accredited third-party background screening. We will continue to work closely with the CPUC to enable access to safe, reliable transportation options for all Coloradans.”