'My life flashed right before me': Uber driver urges safety with Life360 application tracker

Rosie Nguyen Image
Friday, September 8, 2023
Houston crime: Uber driver threatened by passenger at truck stop in NE Houston
"I would advise all Uber drivers who have their own clique, friends, and family members to get that 360 app," a rideshare driver said after being threatened by her own passenger. She shares the frightful moment with ABC13.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A group of Uber drivers allegedly came to the rescue of one of their own on Tuesday night, after receiving a text message claiming that a woman was being held against her will at a northeast Houston truck stop by a threatening passenger.

Aisha Bala said she picked up Yonas Kifle Gilay from George Bush Intercontinental Airport at about 11 p.m. and drove him to his destination at a truck stop on East Houston Road near Sunbury Street. It was supposed to be her last ride of the night.

When she got near the parking lot, which requires a code to enter and exit, Gilay asked her to make one more stop and drop him off at his home in the southwest Houston and Bellaire area. She politely declined, but said Gilay added another stop in the Uber app anyway.

When she reiterated that she would not make another stop, she said that's when Gilay became hostile and would not let her leave unless she drove him home or gave him a refund.

"He got really upset and made a gun gesture with his hand. He said, 'You don't want to give me my $80? I'm going to teach you a lesson' and proceeded to go to his big truck. I didn't know what to do at that moment. My life flashed right before me. I started to think about my kids," Bala said.

Then, Bala said she began lying that she had a gun too as a way to deter Gilay from potentially becoming violent. Shortly after, she called 911 and also spoke to an agent with Uber, whom she felt didn't show signs of urgency in their response.

She then asked for help in a group text with several other Uber drivers, whom she said tracked her location in the Life360 app and rushed to the truck lot. She believes their loud presence outside the gate spooked Gilay and saved her life, allowing enough time for Houston police to get to the scene.

"I would advise all Uber drivers who have their own clique, friends, and family members to get that 360 app. So when they're working (for Uber), they can get tracked," Bala said.

She added that she had been driving for Uber for about two years, which provided her the flexibility she needed to watch her child during the day. She opted to pick up riders from the airport, believing that it added an extra layer of security since passengers have to go through TSA.

But since the incident, Bala shared that she hasn't been able to sleep and doesn't know if she could bring herself to work as a rideshare driver again.

"It was scary, because he could have done anything to me. A lot of Uber and Lyft drivers have lost their lives, just trying to make ends meet and pay their bills. I don't want to be part of that statistic," she said.

HPD arrested Gilay, who now faces a charge of unlawful restraint. Gilay told ABC13 over the phone that he denies all of Bala's allegations and will be fighting the charge during his scheduled court hearing next Wednesday.

Bala said she decided to speak out to urge Uber to reconsider its policies and procedures in order to improve safety measures for drivers. At this time, Uber prohibits drivers from carrying a firearm in the vehicle while on the job. The company also doesn't perform background checks before allowing riders to use the app.

In a statement to ABC13, a representative from Uber wrote, "What this driver experienced is terrifying. As soon as this incident was reported to us, we banned the rider. We have been in touch with the driver, and stand ready to assist law enforcement with their investigation."

Uber also mentioned several features in its app to aimed at enhancing safety for drivers:

  • Emergency button, which allows users to reach out to 911 directly
  • GPS tracking for every trip
  • A "following my ride" feature which enables drivers and delivery workers to share their trip route in real time with family or loved ones.
  • RideCheck helps make sure drivers and riders are OK in the event of a possible crash or unexpected long stop
  • "Live Help" from a safety agent for situations that don't require police, fire or medical. They can stay on the phone for the duration of the trip and can reach out to 911 if necessary
  • Audio recording during a trip, which is encrypted and stored securely on the user's device. Uber can only access the recording if the user reports a safety incident and chooses to share the recording

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