An Uber ride home from book club turned into a scene out of a horror story for three Sacramento women when their driver allegedly began speeding erratically while telling the women that they were “all going to die,” according to passengers.
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Shaun Hampton said the June 15 incident is being investigated as a kidnapping.
The ride started at an Arden-Arcade home where the women were leaving a book club gathering. Theadora Fuerstenberg hailed a ride using the app-based car service to share with Angela O’Neil and Katie Vallaire, who also live in Oak Park.
According to a report filed with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, at approximately 9:42 p.m., Fuerstenberg’s Uber driver arrived in a charcoal Nissan Altima to pick them up at an address on Purinton Drive. The Sacramento Bee isn’t naming the driver because he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Both Fuerstenberg and Vallaire said in the report the driver was reserved and gave short answers when the three tried to exchange small talk with him as they settled into the car. Fuerstenberg and Vallaire said the driver became erratic when he got on the freeway. At the fork where Capital City Freeway and Highway 160 split, he allegedly began drifting into the left lane, despite the guidance of his navigation system.
“We didn’t think it was intentional at that point,” Fuerstenberg said, according to the report. Seated in the passenger’s seat, she pointed out the navigation system recommended staying in the lane for the Capital City Freeway.
Fuerstenberg remembered O’Neil saying, “Oh, you need to stay to the left.” Then the driver allegedly pointed the car at the center divider between the forking roadways.
He replied: “’Which way?’” Fuerstenberg said in the report, “while intentionally aiming towards the center.”
“Left, left!” the women replied.
He swerved in the direction of their intended route at the very last second.
Fuerstenberg said she thought to herself, “Does he think that was funny?”
The driver “immediately floored it, going over 80 miles an hour,” Fuerstenburg said in the report. The navigation app on the driver’s phone flashed warnings about excessive speed.
The Uber driver remained strangely silent and calm, the women remembered, and he returned to driving normally.
“He was very quiet,” Vallaire said, adding that “his gaze was very intense.”
As he approached traffic, the driver allegedly tailgated other vehicles on the highway and when approaching slowed traffic, slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a near halt.
“This is where the terror really began,” Fuerstenberg said in the report.
The car was traveling in the second to the left lane before the bridge crossing the American River when the passengers asked the driver to exit the freeway and let them out, the police report stated.
“Without saying anything, he floored it again,” Fuerstenberg said. The driver maneuvered to an open lane, and the Nissan Altima took off again.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Fuerstenberg remembered the three women pleading, asking him to pull off the freeway.
“No matter what we said, he said, ‘Nope, we are all going to die tonight,’” Fuerstenberg said.
Whenever Fuerstenberg tried to use her cellphone, he would swipe at it as he drove.
“I set my hands in my lap, tried not to look up, and cried,” Fuerstenberg said.
In the back seat, O’Neil tried to inconspicuously search for her phone in her purse. Sitting behind the passenger’s seat, she was the only occupant out of reach of the driver.
The car was a few exits past 12th Avenue traveling south when O’Neil was finally able to call 911. She told the dispatcher “We’ve been abducted, he won’t stop, he’s speeding,” Fuerstenberg remembered.
Approximately 25 minutes into the ride and with O’Neil still on the phone with authorities, the driver pulled off the freeway. Exiting at 47th Avenue, the driver said to O’Neil, “Shut up with your fake tears,” Fuerstenberg remembered.
At the first intersection, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the light was red, forcing the driver to come to a stop.
The three women opened their doors and tumbled out of the car. Leaving the doors open behind them, the women rushed across traffic to a nearby gas station.
It was 10:06 p.m. when the friends got to an ARCO gas station, and the women pleaded with employees there to let them into the locked convenience store. The store locked its doors at 10 p.m.
One of the women called 911 again and a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy took the women’s story.
A report was made, and the women were given a ride home.
The same night, Fuerstenberg contacted Uber to leave a report. Later, she said, she followed up with the company, offering to provide any information about the incident but was only ever contacted via email, Fuerstenberg said.
The next morning, Fuerstenberg went out for her usual run. When she came back, a neighbor informed her: “Your friend was just here.”
Puzzled, Fuerstenberg inquired further. Her neighbor’s description of the the man parked across from her house who sat peering into Fuerstenberg’s home from a charcoal car sounded exactly like the Uber driver. The driver would have had her address as the original destination of the previous night’s terror-filled ride.
Fuerstenberg reported the incident to the police. With the help of a private detective, the three women later secured a restraining order against the driver.
It wasn’t until a sheriff’s detective contacted the app-based ride-sharing company that the the women got confirmation the driver was no longer working for Uber, Fuerstenberg said.
For Fuerstenberg, the incident has robbed her of her sense of security.
She feels safe in her neighborhood but says she sleeps with a hammer, pepper spray and stun gun next to her bed. She has an emergency plan and contingency plans for countless scenarios that never weighed on her before. An avid runner, she no longer feels comfortable hitting the streets alone. When she does run solo, she carries the stun gun attached to her running belt.
Fuerstenberg and Vallaire said they avoid using Uber. Instead, they ask for rides from family or friends, take a bike or opt to drive themselves and pay for parking.
On July 13, the driver appeared at the restraining order hearing, according to court documents. Fuerstenberg was “flabbergasted” when he allegedly said in front of the judge that he wanted to apologize and take responsibility for what had happened the night of the Uber ride.
This story was edited to correct the spelling of Theadora Fuerstenberg.