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California woman sues Lyft for alleged sexual assault, calls attacks by drivers ‘pervasive’

How you can help prevent sexual assaults

Here are some ways you can help prevent sexual assaults, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. The video "on sexual assault awareness and prevention in Isla Vista" also offers risk-reducti
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Here are some ways you can help prevent sexual assaults, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. The video "on sexual assault awareness and prevention in Isla Vista" also offers risk-reducti

The victim of an alleged sexual assault at the hands of a Lompoc Lyft driver has filed a lawsuit in court alleging not only that her attack was captured on a home surveillance system but that acts of sexual violence by drivers have become “pervasive.”

In the lawsuit filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Wednesday, the alleged victim claims that Jason Lamont Fenwick raped the unconscious rider after escorting her into her house.

Lawsuits represent only one side of the story, and the ride-share service has yet to be served with the complaint. A media spokesperson for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.

Reached in November, a company representative called the allegations “horrific.”

Fenwick, 51, has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of sexual penetration, oral copulation, first-degree burglary and committing an assault during the commission of a burglary, as well as a misdemeanor charge of using a concealed camera to film under the alleged victim’s clothing.

fenwick.jpg
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office

Fenwick faces nearly 18 years in prison if convicted of all charges, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

He’s been in custody in San Luis Obispo County Jail since his Nov. 4 arrest in lieu of $500,000 bail and is due back in court Jan. 23 for a pre-preliminary hearing.

The complaint filed in court Wednesday by San Luis Obispo attorney James McKiernan on behalf of “Jane Doe” alleges that the company misrepresents itself to the public as safe.

“Lyft, Inc. advertises itself as the tipsy taxi for the world and, according to Robert Grant, director of global policy for rideshare services and passenger safety, Lyft, Inc. provides an ‘alternative to drinking and driving!’” the lawsuit reads. “Jane Doe’s ‘safe trip home’ on the evening of Nov. 4, 2018, was anything but — and will trouble her and traumatize her for the rest of her life.”

According to the complaint, the woman was dropped off at her home around midnight and woke up the next morning in her bed “bruised, naked and bleeding from her intimate private parts.”

It says that the alleged victim was “blacked out” from alcohol consumption by the time Fenwick and she arrived at her home, and Fenwick escorted her inside. Once Fenwick placed the unconscious woman in her bed, he proceeded to “wander around her home, snooping and checking for other occupants and closing curtains in preparation for his sexual assault.”

The complaint states that once he was comfortable he wasn’t being observed, Fenwick fondled, disrobed, molested and ultimately penetrated the woman, taking several breaks.

Fenwick allegedly took several cell phone photos of himself with the unconscious woman.

Afterward, Fenwick allegedly used the woman’s cell phone to leave a $20 tip from himself on the Lyft app and left the house “for his next pick-up.”

The complaints states that the roughly 30-minute attack by Fenwick was entirely captured on the woman’s home video surveillance system.

McKiernan called such attacks by drivers of the ride share service “pervasive,” listing a CNN report on the prevalence of the crimes as well as seven specific assaults allegedly committed by Lyft drivers.

The complaint accuses the company of targeting a female market and that it routinely fails to adequately screen its drivers, hiring people with criminal histories.

The company also has a history of not cooperating with law enforcement; of the 798 law enforcement requests for information Lyft received in 2017, the company fully complied with just 418 requests, the lawsuit alleges.

The woman is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and recovery of legal fees, and that Lyft implement specific changes, including the installation of a “panic button” in the mobile app and developing policies requiring the company to report allegations against a driver, as well as conducting mandatory fingerprint background testing for its prospective drivers.

A case management conference for the lawsuit is scheduled for May 14.

In response to an emailed request for comment on the case in November, Kaelan Richards, Lyft’s senior manager of policy and safety, wrote: “The safety of our community is our number one priority — we have absolutely no tolerance for this behavior on the platform. Upon learning of this incident, we permanently banned the driver from our platform, reached out to the passenger to offer our full support and assistance, and stand ready to assist law enforcement with their investigation.”

The Lyft driver’s arrest follows another sexual assault case filed in January against Santa Maria Uber driver Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, who is accused of committing five sexual assaults in San Luis Obispo County. Alarcon-Nunez was ordered to stand trial after a judge upheld forcible rape, assault, and burglary charges in December .

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.
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