Crime

Nipomo woman files 2nd Lyft lawsuit for alleged sexual assault — and others join her

A Nipomo woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a Lompoc Lyft driver filed a second class action complaint on Wednesday against the rideshare app and the accused assailant — and two Southern California women joined the lawsuit.

Jason Lamont Fenwick, 52, gave the intoxicated victim a ride home in November 2018 and allegedly raped her while she was unconscious.

Fenwick was arrested a few days later, and the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office charged him with oral copulation and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, burglary and using a device to see through clothing.

Fenwick pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains in custody in the San Luis Obispo County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail while he awaits trial.

The unnamed woman’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, claims Lyft should bear some responsibility for her alleged assault.

Civil lawsuits provide only plaintiffs’ perspectives and don’t represent defendants’ points of view.

“Lyft owed Ms. Doe and the general public a duty of reasonable care in the supervision and retention of its drivers,” according to the complaint. “Lyft breached that duty of care in the supervision of and/or retention of its drivers.”

The lawsuit demands financial damages, a judgment “stating that Lyft’s practices, policies and procedures subjected Ms. Doe to false imprisonment, sexual assault and sexual harassment” and changes to the company’s policies to make the app safer for female riders.

Second lawsuit against Lyft, driver

This is the second lawsuit the woman, referred to as Jane Doe No. 1 in the complaint, has filed against the rideshare company and Fenwick. She filed another, similar, complaint in January.

Her attorney, James McKiernan, said he and the woman filed the first lawsuit after they tried to contact Lyft, and company representatives were unresponsive.

They withdrew the lawsuit after communicating with the company, but decided to file another complaint after it became clear Lyft wasn’t going to cooperate with them, McKiernan said.

“I want them to acknowledge there’s a problem,” he said.

As the victim and McKiernan were planning to file the second complaint, two other women — one from Los Angeles County and another from San Diego County — asked to join the lawsuit, claiming they had also been sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers.

The Los Angeles County Lyft driver is identified as Abdul in the lawsuit, and the San Diego County driver is identified as Jacob. The complaint filed Wednesday doesn’t describe the other women’s assaults, saying that they were “too gruesome and tragic to recount herein.”

The two other sexual assaults remain under investigation, and no arrests have been made, McKiernan said. The women decided to join this lawsuit instead of filing their own because they believe it offers them the best chance for success, he said.

Sexual assault victim is still struggling

The Nipomo woman told The Tribune she has been unable to return to work since the alleged assault because she is coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and night terrors.

She said she’s taking medication but is still struggling: “It’s a day-to-day thing for me.”

Kaelan Richards, Lyft’s senior manager of policy and safety, told The Tribune in November 2018 that the company had “reached out to the passenger to offer our full support and assistance.”

But the woman called the statement a lie and said the company had not contacted her.

The Tribune has reached out to Lyft and Fenwick’s attorney for comments but had not received a response by Friday evening.

Attorneys for Lyft, Fenwick and the victims will appear before Superior Court Judge Tana Coates on Dec. 2 for a case management conference.

Fenwick will appear before Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero on July 31 for a trial-setting conference.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.
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