MEDFORD, Ore. — A man who worked as an Uber driver in Medford has been arrested and accused of both kidnapping and sexual assault, according to the Medford Police Department (MPD).
Officers responded shortly before 3 a.m. in the early hours of Sunday morning after reports of a possible sexual assault.
"The victim and family reported the 21-year-old victim was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by her Uber driver who was no longer on scene," MPD said.
Detectives began investigating the case, ultimately leading to the arrest of 51-year-old Antonio Gonzalez-Salinas on Tuesday. Salinas has been charged with Kidnapping in the First Degree, Sex Abuse in the First Degree, Attempted Rape in the First Degree, and Harassment.
An investigation found that the 21-year-old woman had been out with a group of friends in downtown Medford on Saturday night. The woman's friends called her an Uber to take her to another friend's house in east Medford after she had been drinking.
The Uber driver arrived just before 1:30 a.m. in a black Lexus sporting the license plate "VOLRIS," MPD said.
Fifteen minutes later, the woman's friends found out that she had not arrived at her destination. They tried calling her phone, but it was "hung up several times."
"The victim’s male friend was eventually able to talk to the Uber driver, who answered her phone," Medford Police said. "The driver claimed that he was having trouble finding her house. Repeated attempts to call the victim were not answered."
One of the friends contacted a family member of the woman, who was able to track her phone. Shortly after 2 a.m., her phone was tracked to an area about two blocks from the intended destination. A relative and two friends went to the scene.
"When they arrived at around 2:30 a.m., they saw the Lexus parked on the street with the victim in the passenger seat. The victim was upset and crying, and the Uber driver left the scene," MPD said.
Learning about the sexual assault, the friends called police. Detectives later found that the Uber driver had been repeatedly locking her doors during the assault, according to MPD.
On Tuesday, detectives found Gonzalez-Salinas at his house in the 1900-block of Erin Way in Medford. He was taken into custody, and investigators say they found the victim's phone in his house. Other evidence, including his vehicle, was also seized.
"Detectives have reached out to Uber as part of our investigation," MPD said.
The agency said that Antonio Gonzales-Salinas has one prior conviction for misdemeanor Harassment, which was "non sexual in nature." He is being held on $360,000 bail.
NewsWatch 12 talked to a local rideshare driver, Mary Carolin. She says that riders often don't realize they can report their drivers.
"If you felt uncomfortable or they touched you inappropriately, the minute you get of the car go into your app. If you rate them three stars or less you'll simply never be paired with that driver again," said Carolin
Carolin says woman should always be in pairs when using a rideshare service. The precaution is something that she says we shouldn't have to do, but it's safer than the alternative.
Rideshare passengers can report an uncomfortable drive to police, however there isn't much that law enforcement can do unless the driver did touch you inappropriately.
NewsWatch 12 reached out to Uber for comment on the case. An Uber spokesman said that the safety of the riders and drivers who use the Uber app is a top priority.
“What has been described is awful and something no one should ever have to go through," the company said in a statement. "We’re cooperating with law enforcement to support their investigation and the individual no longer has access to the Uber app.”
Uber said that when incidents are reported, it works to support law enforcement with their investigations. The company also said that its Incident Response Team is available every day, all day to respond immediately.
According to Uber's safety policies, any person found with a felony or violent misdemeanor conviction in the last seven years — found through a mandatory background check and subsequent investigation — is disqualified and cannot become a driver. Some particularly serious violent or sexual crimes beyond seven years can also result in disqualification, if those records "are made available and reported" to the company.
Salinas' Harassment conviction cited by Medford Police happened in 2010. Harassment is a misdemeanor and does not rise to the level of conduct described by Uber's policies for behavior beyond the usual seven-year scope of its background checks.