A mother faced a harrowing ordeal just days before Christmas when, according to her account, an Uber driver took off with her 2-year-old in the back seat and police had to chase the car down.
Adrienne Douglas, a 30-year-old federal contractor from Northeast Washington, said she had just buckled her 2½-year-old son into the back of a sedan and was walking around to the passenger’s side when the car began driving away — the driver apparently unaware that a customer had been left behind. Douglas reunited with her son only after she managed to flag down a police officer to follow the car, she said.
The incident occurred in the U Street corridor on Dec. 21. Uber said Wednesday that it has suspended the driver, who was not identified, while it looks into the case. A company spokeswoman said the driver’s behavior did not appear to be malicious, but he could be permanently deactivated if an investigation proves otherwise. The fare for Douglas’s trip was fully refunded.
“We’re sorry to hear that your son had to go through the situation that you’ve reported,” read an email from Uber’s support team provided by Douglas.
About 4:30 p.m., Douglas said, she strapped her son into the back seat of a white Ford Focus at 10th and V streets. Suddenly, as she attempted to walk around to the passenger’s side, the car was driven away with her son and her cellphone, which was in his hands (she said he likes to watch YouTube videos during car rides). Helpless, Douglas began screaming at the driver and bystanders and tried to wave him down, but the car didn’t stop.
“It did not register what was happening so I waved my hands and yelled ‘aye’ but the car kept going,” she wrote in an email.
After seeing the car make a right turn on W Street NW, she spotted a D.C. police officer pulling up to 10th and V.
“I frantically flagged him down, trying to get out the words ‘he has my son’ but I could only point in the direction the car was going,” she said. “He has my son. That car making a turn has my son.” D.C. police did not immediately confirm her account.
She said the officer switched on his lights and chased the car. Meanwhile, she took off running. The officer finally stopped the car on Florida Avenue, near the intersection with Vermont Avenue, about a block from where the pickup occurred.
“I immediately unbuckled my son out of the seat, took him out and started to console him while he cried,” she said in the email. “I went off on the driver who claimed he did not know I was not in the car. I replied back, ‘how could you not see me in your rear-view or side-view mirror?’ You cannot drive three blocks without knowing.”
Mistake or not, Douglas said, the incident showed extreme negligence. The driver shouldn’t be allowed back with Uber, she said.
“Even if it was a mistake, you were beyond careless to not check to see if all your passengers were in the car,” she said. “You went too far not to notice an adult was not in the car.”
Douglas said it was a scarring experience.
“It’s numbing when it happens. You’re in fight-or-flight mode, like what do you do next,” she said.
Uber did not provide a timeline for its investigation. The company said that riders can give feedback through its rating system and that drivers are booted if the company sees a pattern of bad feedback. The company’s community guidelines lay out the expectations for riders and drivers but do not address incidents such as this.
Uber says it is reaching out to all parties involved in the incident to determine what occurred. The investigation centers on whether the driver’s action could be attributed to a mistake — perhaps “holiday brain fuzz” — or something more malicious.
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