Shortly after midnight one October night in 2017, Alison Turkos left a Crown Heights bar, hopped in a Lyft with a driver who goes by the name “Raggie” and thought she was heading home to Williamsburg.
Instead, she was held at gunpoint and driven to New Jersey, where two men were waiting, and was gang raped, according to Turkos. The entire trip took 80 minutes.
Now Turkos is suing Lyft in Superior Court in San Francisco, where the company is based. Turkos, now 31, is not seeking money, but wants the company to change its safety policies and do a better job vetting drivers. She’s also suing the NYPD over inadequate and poorly trained staff at the Special Victims Unit that deals with rape reports. That case is still pending.
According to Turkos’s Lyft receipt reviewed by Gothamist/WNYC, the driver picked her up in Crown Heights, drove her across the Manhattan Bridge to the Holland Tunnel, to a park in New Jersey, and then turned around and went back through the Holland Tunnel and across the Williamsburg Bridge, ending the trip shortly before 4 a.m. on October 14th.
The ride cost Turkos $106.80.
The lawsuit notes Turkos did not immediately recall what happened during the ride, and she told Gothamist/WNYC that she initially reported to Lyft that she had been taken across state lines without her consent.
From the lawsuit:
Due to the severe trauma, it took ALISON some time to piece together the brutal reality of what had happened to her. When she looked at her LYFT account, she realized that what should have been a 3-mile, 15-minute ride, was in fact an 18-mile, 79-minute ride all the way to New Jersey and then back to Brooklyn. ALISON reported this to LYFT wondering how this could have happened. A LYFT representative or an automated response apologized for the “inconvenience” of the trip and refunded only part of the ride.
Within 24 hours of the ordeal, she had filed a written complaint and spent 10-15 minutes on the phone with Lyft’s “Trust and Safety” team describing what she called a kidnapping. An email from Lyft’s “Critical Response Line” received by Turkos at 5:50 p.m. the same day notes:
“We just spoke on the phone about your experience during your recent Lyft ride early this morning. The safety and comfort of all Lyft Community members are our highest concerns. We'll be addressing your concerns accordingly, and we've made sure that you won't be paired up with driver again in the future.
“As we discussed, I will make sure our support team follows up on the cost of this ride. Please don't hesitate to reach out to us with any other feedback that you may have, and let us know if you have any further questions!”
The next day, before she filed a police report in Brooklyn and went to the hospital to complete a rape kit, Turkos asked Lyft “what the [police] process looks like in coordination with Lyft.”
She says she did not receive a response to that email.
However, subsequent emails from Lyft that day suggested the reason it appeared Turkos’s driver had taken her to New Jersey was because her phone had poor network connectivity, an out of date version of the Lyft app, or her phone had outdated software.
Turkos was later refunded $93.99 for the trip in which she was allegedly raped, leaving her to pay $12.08 for the ride home.
Lyft said its first interaction with Turkos about this case was when she asked for a refund for the driver taking an “indirect route.” The company claims it didn’t know there was a “safety incident” until the Wall Street Journal published an article about failures at the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit more than seven months later. The article doesn’t mention Lyft, or any vehicle for that matter, it just says “she had been raped on her way home from a bar.”
Turkos disputes Lyft’s account.
“They were responsive, in the sense of trying to gaslight me or victim blame me,” Turkos told Gothamist/WNYC about when she first reported the crime. “Telling me the incident never occurred or that the driver had taken me from the original pick up location to the intended drop off location, although the map doesn’t indicate that.”
According to court documents, the rape kit confirmed the evidence of semen from two men on the clothing she wore the night of the incident.
Lyft says it received its first subpoena from law enforcement on May 14th, 2018, six days after the Journal story, and has complied with law enforcement’s requests.
Reached for comment about Turkos’s allegation, Lyft spokeswoman Cambell Matthews spoke generally about all of the lawsuits filed against Lyft and told Gothamist/WNYC, “What these riders [sic] describe is awful, and something no one should have to endure. We constantly work to improve the platform, which is why we have invested in new features, protocols and policies to protect our riders and drivers. This year alone we’ve launched 14 new safety features–including daily continuous background check monitoring, in-app emergency assistance, and mandatory feedback for any ride rated less than four stars. We have also partnered with RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, to roll out required sexual violence prevention education."
According to Lyft, the driver passed the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s background check and was permitted to drive.
“We have clear procedures for immediately suspending the license of anyone changed with a dangerous crime,” TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg told Gothamist/WNYC. “The driver has not been charged by law enforcement for the alleged 2017 incident. We will continue to monitor this driver’s record closely, as we do all drivers 24/7/365, for any criminal charges. We cannot, however, comment on any investigation by the NYPD or FBI and we refer you to those agencies.”
Lyft would not confirm whether the alleged driver is still an active driver, but it appears he could be.
Turkos, who said she no longer uses Lyft, said in April 2018 the driver who allegedly raped her and goes by “Raggie” had an active profile under the same name and in May 2018 she went to take a screenshot and saw he was using a new profile photo and a new name. “He had completely changed his identity within the app,” Turkos said.
According to VICE, there are 26 other lawsuits against Lyft over safety concerns and removing rapists from the app.
No arrests have been made in Turkos’s case, and the FBI is investigating it as a human trafficking case because she crossed state lines.
“I want to see more safety features added to Lyft, I want to see more extensive background checks, biometric fingerprinting, and I want to see more things done at a systemic level at a higher level,” Turkos told Gothamist/WNYC. “I want to hold people accountable who have perpetrated harm against me. For an individual level that includes the men who committed the crime against me. On a systemic level that includes law enforcement who neglected to investigate the crime in a timely fashion...that also includes Lyft who is a company that facilitated this crime to happen.”
The law firm representing Turkos, Levin, Simes, Abrams has filed 18 lawsuits against Lyft on behalf of women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by drivers.
“While the attack on Alison is one of the more horrifying cases our firm has seen, tragically, the dozens of clients we represent are presumably only a fraction of those who have fallen prey to predatory drivers,” Turkos’ lawyer Meghan McCormick, wrote in a statement to Gothamist/WNYC. “Because of the trauma involved, many survivors choose to remain silent. Our hope, and our clients’ hope, is that in holding Lyft accountable, other vulnerable passengers will not suffer the same fate as Alison and countless others who relied on Lyft for a safe ride home.”
Update: After the story was published, Lyft confirmed the driver has been deactivated, although wouldn’t say exactly when.