Crime

Uber driver accused of sexually assaulting fifth female rider in SLO to face trial

Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, 39, of Santa Maria, n court for a preliminary hearing Dec. 19. Prosecutors allege say escorted intoxicated women into their homes and then raped them.
Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, 39, of Santa Maria, n court for a preliminary hearing Dec. 19. Prosecutors allege say escorted intoxicated women into their homes and then raped them. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Prosecutors said Wednesday that a fifth woman was sexually assaulted and had her home burglarized by an Uber driver from Santa Maria facing charges for similar attacks on women across San Luis Obispo.

At a preliminary hearing Wednesday, a Superior Court judge found that the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office presented enough evidence to proceed Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez’s criminal case toward trial with two additional felony charges.

Alarcon-Nunez, 39, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, is facing 10 felonies, including counts of forcible rape, rape by use of drugs, assault with the intent to commit rape, oral copulation, first-degree burglary and grand theft of personal property.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen said he would allow Deputy District Attorney Julie Antos to file an additional two felony charges of assault with intent to commit rape and burglary when Alarcon-Nunez is re-arraigned next month.

Until Wednesday, police had identified four victims — two 19-year-olds, a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old — in the city of San Luis Obispo, three of whom were Cal Poly students and the fourth was a Cuesta College student. The fifth victim revealed in court Wednesday is a resident of Santa Barbara, where her alleged assault occurred.

The alleged attacks occurred in December 2017 and January 2018.

Investigators say Alarcon-Nunez targeted intoxicated women who requested rides through the Uber ride-sharing app. When the women or their friends would hail the ride, Alarcon-Nunez’s four-door sedan with the Uber dash light would suddenly appear, picking them up before their actual driver arrived.

Alarcon-Nunez would allegedly request the women use another payment app — Venmo, for which he used aliases — to pay him for the ride, instead of receiving it through the Uber app. He would then charge some of the women hundreds of dollars through the app, according to testimony presented Wednesday.

The third-party payment app initially allowed Alarcon-Nunez to keep investigators from using his Uber transactions to track him. Ultimately, however, detectives were able to obtain a bank account from Venmo, and with a warrant, were able to trace the payments to Alarcon-Nunez.

Semen found at some of the crime scenes all matched Alarcon-Nunez’s DNA, detectives testified, and his face is seen clearly in one graphic video.

In court Wednesday, Alarcon-Nunez sat next to his attorney and followed proceedings with the help of an interpreter, shaking his head in disapproval at the accusations throughout the hearing.

Two Santa Barbara police detectives testified that the 31-year-old Santa Barbara victim came to the police station to report a sexual assault and burglary. Detective Chad Hunt testified that the woman said she had been out drinking with friends in downtown Santa Barbara on July 15, 2017, when she became intoxicated and hailed an Uber home.

She next reported remembering waking up in her bed with her clothes askew and her phone, purse and watch missing. She reported that her vagina was sore and she had a bruise on her knee, though she didn’t know if she had sexual intercourse the night before.

Days later, she received a Facebook message from a user named “Brush Bat” who wrote, “I had fun the other night ... Do you remember?” and sent her photos that showed her propped up and possibly unconscious in the back seat of a car, with her skirt hiked up and her vagina showing.

She later found two Venmo charges totaling $1,000.

Under cross examination by Earl Conaway III, Alarcon-Nunez’s attorney, Hunt testified that the woman did not see a doctor after the alleged incident and “admitted it might have been a consensual sexual encounter.”

Two other young women, San Luis Obispo residents, also ordered an Uber following a night of drinking downtown on Jan. 17, 2018. With one woman so intoxicated she couldn’t walk, a good Samaritan Uber driver assisted in carrying the woman to her apartment with her friend.

The women later reported to San Luis Obispo police Detective Christopher Chitty that a man suddenly appeared, also identifying himself as an Uber driver, and jumped in to help carry the one woman up to the apartment.

The legitimate driver stopped at the doorway and didn’t follow the other three in, and left after smoking a cigarette outside. That driver told police the man, who he picked out of a photo lineup, never emerged from the apartment before he left, Chitty testified.

Those women also woke to bruises and items missing, with one of the women believing she was raped. A used condom was found in the room, and DNA later matched Alarcon-Nunez, Chitty said.

Those items, as well as videos and photos of the women naked and engaging in sexual activity, were found in Alarcon-Nunez’s home and on his electronic devices, according to Chitty.

In another attack, Alarcon-Nunez allegedly helped another intoxicated woman and her friend bring the intoxicated friend inside, only to leave and return later through a back door.

In another, a woman called her intoxicated friend an Uber driver while carrying her out of a house only to find Alarcon-Nunez already waiting outside, stopped in the middle of the street, Jason Dickle, a San Luis Obispo detective, testified.

But during cross examination, Conaway revealed that two of the victims initially told police they thought they had been drugged by a group of men they had been hanging out with earlier in the night at one of the bars. Conaway questioned why investigators didn’t follow up with the group of men.

Conaway also noted that two of the alleged victims didn’t take a SART examination, and that in at least one of the videos that depicts an alleged victim engaging in sex with a visible Alarcon-Nunez, the woman is seen smiling. Chitty conceded that she didn’t appear to be resisting.

If convicted on all charges, Alarcon-Nunez faces up to life in prison. He is scheduled for a further arraignment Jan. 14.

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