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The Uber Driver’s Rampage


            On the afternoon of February 20th, 2016, Matt Melen called an Uber in Kalamazoo, Michigan. When the Chevy Equinox arrived, Matt initially felt comfortable with his middle-aged driver. The driver had his dog in the backseat, so Matt sat in the front passenger seat. Within minutes, everything had changed. The driver, forty-five-year-old Jason Dalton, suddenly started driving fast and erratically. He was driving between seventy-five and eighty miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic lanes, and nearly hitting innocent bystanders. It was only the beginning of a night of terror in the community of Kalamazoo.

            Matt was terrified and considered punching the driver. He started pointing to random houses, telling the driver that the houses were his destination. He asked to get out of the vehicle, but Jason kept driving. Jason eventually hit another car, damaging the front end of the Equinox significantly. Matt said that he said, “You just hit that car”, to which Jason responded, “No I didn’t” and kept driving. Jason eventually slowed down enough that Matt jumped from the passenger seat and rolled on to the ground.

           



Within seconds, Jason had sped off in the Equinox. Matt immediately called 911 to report that his Uber driver was behaving erratically and was a danger. The dispatcher basically told him that they would be on the lookout, but there wasn’t much they could do. Matt then called Uber’s 24-hour hotline to report the behavior. Matt states it took him over an hour to reach someone at Uber, at which point it was just too late. Despite the call made by Matt, Jason was able to continue to accept Uber fairs.

            After leaving the area, Jason Dalton went home briefly before heading out to pick up another Uber fair. Despite several people including Matt Mellen calling 911, the Uber driver continued to operate. A little after five o’clock that evening, Jason headed to the Richland Township apartment complex to pick up a passenger.  Unfortunately, the passenger gave the wrong pick-up address. She tried to call the Uber driver, Jason, to correct the address but he did not answer. When the Equinox got to the apartment complex, it was seen driving erratically. Jason was frustrated with not finding his passenger.



            At 5:42pm, Tiana Carruthers was walking outside of her apartment complex with her children. A Chevy Equinox pulled up alongside her. The man, Jason Dalton, asked her if she was the person requesting the Uber. Tiana said she wasn’t, but this just seemed to agitate Jason more. Jason turned the vehicle around and started shooting a gun at Tiana and the children. Tiana told the children to run away as she shielded them. He fired several times, hitting Tiana multiple times as she tried to run away. Tiana stopped fighting when she realized that the more, she moved, the more he shot. She pretended to be dea Neighbors were now in the parking lot of the complex and 911 calls were rolling into local authorities. Believing Tiana was dead, Jason sped away in the Equinox. He drove erratically, running red lights and swiping parked cars. He later met up with his wife. He told her that a taxi driver side swiped him and shot at him because Uber was taking away his business. He assured his wife that Uber was taking care of it. He borrowed her vehicle, a black HHR, and told her that she probably shouldn’t go to work the next day. He also told her to keep their kids home from school the following day. As he walked out, he said that he couldn’t tell her what was going to happen that night, but she should watch the eleven o’clock news.

            Jason headed back out in the HHR, continuing to pick up passengers. Some passengers were confused as they were expecting an Equinox, not an HHR. Jason took multiple passengers over the next few hours, most of whom described their experiences as uneventful and Jason as normal. Meanwhile, twenty-five-year-old Tiana was recovering from critical injuries after being shot multiple times. Thanks to her smart decision to play dead, Tiana was alive. None of her children were injured in the shooting.

            At about ten o’clock that night, seventeen-year-old Tyler Smith was with his father and girlfriend at a local Kia dealership in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Tyler and his father were outside their vehicle looking at a truck for Tyler. They often went after hours to avoid the car salesmen. Tyler’s sixteen-year-old girlfriend waited inside the vehicle to escape the cold February air. An HHR pulled into the dealership. The driver got out of the vehicle and approached Tyler and his father, Richard Smith.




            Richard Eugene Smith was born June 9th, 1962. He later married his wife Laurie, and they had two children, Emily and Tyler. As Tyler and Rich looked at the vehicle, Jason Dalton approached. He asked the father and son what they were looking at, but before they could answer Jason started shooting. He fired fourteen rounds, fatally injuring both Rich and Tyler. Tyler’s girlfriend hid on the floor of the car to avoid becoming a victim. People nearby started making panicked 911 calls as they witnessed the heinous murder of two innocent people.

            Before police could arrive at the scene, Jason Dalton had driven away in the black HHR. Police were looking for an Equinox based on earlier reports, and they hadn’t connected Tiana’s shooting to the shootings at the Kia dealership. Kalamazoo had two senseless shootings in just a matter of hours and multiple reports of erratic driving. They had no clue who was terrorizing the city, but he was a step ahead of them.

            Ten minutes after the Kia shootings, Jason Dalton pulled into the Cracker Barrel parking lot and opened fire on four elderly women and a young girl. All five were shot multiple times. The women were old friends who went out together regularly. They included sixty-year-old Mary Jo Nye, her sister-in-law, sixty-two-year-old Mary Lou Nye, ninety-two-year-old Dorothy Brown, eighty-five-year-old Barbara Hawthorne, and fourteen-year-old Abigail Kopf. Abby was very close friends with Barbara Hawthorne, whom she considered her grandmother despite no biological connection.






            After shooting into their vehicle multiple times, injuring all five victims, Jason Dalton sped off in the HHR. Dozens of more 911 calls came in as witnesses reacted in horror to what had just happened. Police were now looking for the HHR, pulling every black HHR over. Meanwhile, Jason continued to pick up customers for Uber. Finally, at 12:26 am, police pulled over Jason Dalton. Security footage from the local stores gave a great description of the shooter, helping police to positively identify Jason Dalton as the suspect. Upon his arrest, he was wearing a bullet proof vest with a loaded gun in a holster.

            Jason Brian Dalton was born June 22nd, 1970, in Greenfield, Indiana. He was a married father of two children, who were ten and fifteen in 2016. He earned an associate degree in law enforcement but had a difficult time finding a job in law enforcement. He later studied auto body and eventually became an insurance adjuster. Former co-workers described Jason as a “nice guy” and a “family man”, but also recalled incidents in which he yelled at customers or was quick to anger. No one had anticipated he would do something like he did on February 20th, 2016. Neighbors later stated he was a little paranoid in the days preceding the murders.



            Jason Brian Dalton was charged with eight counts of felony weapon charge, six counts of first-degree murder, and two counts of assault with intent to commit murder. Tiana Carruthers had serious injuries from the shooting that required several surgeries and years of physical therapy, but she survived. When police arrived at the Cracker Barrel, they initially believed all five victims were dead, but soon they saw fourteen-year-old Abby moving. Despite being shot repeatedly including in the head, Abby survived. She too would face a long road to recovery, but Abby survived the horrific night.

            Abby’s survival was not expected and is truly a miracle. When her mother arrived at the hospital, she was shocked to learn what had happened. It appeared as if Barbara had pushed Abby down to protect her, likely saving her life. While in the ICU, Abby’s mother witnessed staff performing CPR on her daughter and was horrified by the experience. She crashed again a few hours later and was pronounced dead. As her mother said goodbye, she put her head to her daughter’s body and heard what she thought was a heartbeat.



            Her mother told Abby to send her a sign if she was there, at which time Abby squeezed her mother’s hand. Staff panicked as they rushed to get Abby back on the machines. Abby’s skull was shattered, and doctors had to remove part of the frontal lobe of her brain and installed plates to replace the missing bone. Abby had a grim prognosis, but she continued to defy all odds. She eventually learned to walk again and function again. She went through dozens of procedures and surgeries, but she survived.

            On February 22nd, 2016, Jason Brian Dalton was charged with six counts of murder, eight counts of illegal weapon possession, and two counts of assault with the intent to commit murder. Under police questioning, Dalton was calm and eventually admitted to the crimes. When police asked the question on everyone’s mind, “Why?”. Jason began to tell a tale truly bizarre and horrifying. He described seeing a devil face in the Uber app. He claimed the Uber app was changing colors and telling him to kill people. Police believed that Jason was trying to establish an insanity defense. His initial plea was not guilty by reason of insanity.

            The trial was set to begin on January 7th, 2019, but to the surprise of everyone, Jason Dalton changed his plea to guilty. Recorded phone calls to family from the days before and after the plea indicate he was trying to avoid media attention. On February 5th, 2019, Jason Dalton was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

            Matt Melen claimed that if Uber had appropriate customer service available after hours, he could have prevented the crime with his initial call. Uber put out a statement: “We are horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this devastating crime and those recovering from injuries”. Uber and Matt Melen settled out of court. Following the crime, legislation was developed to address the fact that there was no public alerting system for active shooters in Kalamazoo. As a result of this horrific night, there is now a system for this, similar to the Amber alert system. Jason Dalton remains imprisoned at Oaks Correctional Center. His wife divorced him just after his arrest.    

 

 

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