Why The Kalamazoo Massacre Was Almost Even Worse

Mugshot of Jason Dalton, suspect in the Kalamazoo massacre (image courtesy Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Department via the Daily Mirror)
Mugshot of Jason Dalton, suspect in the Kalamazoo massacre (image courtesy Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department via the Daily Mirror)

On Saturday night, six people in and around Kalamazoo, Michigan were brutally murdered down over a period of seven hours. It turns out that the suspected triggerman in this massacre was an Uber driver, and may have been picking up rides between shootings.

Jason Dalton was taken into custody early Sunday morning, and is due to be arraigned on Monday for charges related to the massacre. Police believe that Dalton began his spree at around 5:45 on Saturday night, when he shot and gravely injured a woman in Richland Township. Four hours later, he killed a father and son checking out cars at a Kalamazoo dealership. He then drove to a Cracker Barrel in nearby Texas Township and fired into a car in the parking lot, killing four and gravely injuring one. Kalamazoo County prosecutor Jeffrey Getting says that Dalton is, at a minimum, facing charges of murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and numerous weapons charges.

Now here’s where this story really gets horrific. Early on Sunday morning, Kalamazoo police told WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids that they believed Dalton was an Uber driver. Reportedly, Dalton dropped off a group of people at a Fairfield Inn next door to the Cracker Barrel where four people were killed.

Later on Sunday afternoon, WOOD-TV spoke with “Derek,” who ordered an Uber ride for his family on Saturday night while visiting his in-laws in Kalamazoo. Reached at his home in Indianapolis, Derek said he got a ride specifically because he didn’t think it was safe to walk with a maniac prowling the streets. He jokingly asked the driver, “You’re not the shooter, are you?” The driver said something that sounded like a “no.”

After Derek and his family arrived at their hotel, they realized they may have very well been in the car with the shooter after all. Police said that the killer was driving a Chevy HHR–the same make and model of the vehicle in which Derek and his family had ridden minutes later. It was only when they saw Dalton’s mugshot that they realized they came very close to being victims in this massacre. As it turned out, that may have been Dalton’s last fare of the night; he was arrested less than 20 minutes later.

Uber has confirmed that Dalton was indeed one of its drivers, and stated that he had passed a required background check. However, this massacre may provide more ammunition for taxicab drivers’ unions, who have long complained that Uber’s background checks aren’t rigorous enough. According to Dave Sutton, a spokesman for “Who’s Driving You?”, a campaign of the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association, Uber doesn’t meet with potential drivers in person “to see if they give off a strange vibe or seem untrustworthy.” Sutton added that Uber doesn’t fingerprint drivers either–which could potentially catch someone using a false identity.

According to Uber, drivers are turned away if they have caused any fatal accidents, have been convicted of a felony, violent crime, drug-related offense, resisting arrest, or terrorism. However, a Facebook post by one of Dalton’s passengers suggests that he may have slipped through the cracks. Apparently Dalton was driving in a dangerously erratic manner just before the massacre, and even caused at least one accident. WOOD-TV obtained a screenshot.

Screenshot of Facebook post warning about Dalton, courtesy WOOD-TV
Screenshot of Facebook post warning about Dalton, courtesy WOOD-TV

While several incidents of passengers assaulting Uber drivers have made recent headlines, Who’s Driving You? has documented a litany of criminal behavior by Uber drivers over the years–including assaults, sexual harassment, kidnappings, DUIs, and even several felons managing to sign on despite Uber’s official ban. But Saturday night’s massacre should serve as a wake-up call to Uber. The idea that a mass murderer was behind the wheel for Uber should send a chill down anyone’s spine. Unless Uber gives assurances–and promptly–that it will fix its vetting process, then it’s time for state and local officials to do it for them. This simply cannot be allowed to happen again. Period.

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.