East Palo Alto police have arrested an Uber driver for allegedly sexually assaulting his passenger after an incident that began in Palo Alto, police Commander Jeff Liu said in a statement.
The woman was in downtown Palo Alto socializing with friends on Friday, July 22, when she used the Uber ride-sharing app to request a driver to take her home. The woman, an East Palo Alto resident, decided to use Uber Pool, which would allow other prospective riders to share the fare, Liu said.
The Uber driver arrived at the 200 block of University Avenue in Palo Alto and picked up the woman. He instructed her to sit in the front seat, which was against her wishes, Liu said. The Uber driver told her that she must sit in the front because he was expecting other fares and they would have to sit in the back.
When the woman entered the vehicle and sat in front as instructed, she heard the Uber driver contact the other prospective pool passengers and say that he would have to cancel their fares because they requested to be dropped off at a location in the opposite direction the woman was traveling.
While the Uber driver drove the woman to her home, he allegedly locked the vehicle and touched the victim's leg several times. The woman demanded that he stop the vehicle so she could exit but he continued to drive, Liu said.
At the woman's residence, the Uber driver allegedly kissed the woman, and requested that she allow him into her apartment. The woman refused but was unable to exit the vehicle because the driver had locked the door. After several attempts, she was able to exit the vehicle, Liu said.
East Palo Alto police officers were able to track down and arrest the Uber driver in East Palo Alto on Saturday, July 23, at about 4 p.m. Police arrested Rodolf Vjerdha, 59, of Redwood City, as he was driving a dark maroon or burgundy 2014 Kia Optima, the same vehicle used in the night of the alleged assault, Liu said.
The East Palo Alto Police department is currently contacting neighboring agencies to determine if there are any other victims. The department is withholding Vjerdha's photograph since the investigation is ongoing and investigators do not want to compromise the identification process, Liu said.
Vjerdha is banned from using the ride-sharing app, Uber officials said Sunday. The type of behavior Vjerdha allegedly exhibited, Uber officials said, is a clear violation of company guidelines, which prohibit drivers from inappropriate and sexual conduct.
Additional victims or police departments with similar reports are asked to contact Commander Liu at 650-853-5904. Anyone who may have witnessed or has any knowledge of this incident is asked to contact the East Palo Alto Police Department by an anonymous email to firstname.lastname@example.org, an anonymous text to 650-409-6792 or by leaving an anonymous voice mail at 650-409-6792.