State - INACTIVE

Riding in a Lyft or Uber? New law could make ride sharing safer in California

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow, right, holds a press conference in January to announce charges against Uber driver Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, whose criminal case inspired Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham to submit a bill signed Thursday to strengthen background checks for drivers for ride-sharing services.
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow, right, holds a press conference in January to announce charges against Uber driver Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, whose criminal case inspired Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham to submit a bill signed Thursday to strengthen background checks for drivers for ride-sharing services. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed into law a bill submitted by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham to strengthen background checks for drivers of ride-sharing services following a criminal case involving a Central Coast Uber driver that the company called “absolutely horrifying.”

On Thursday, nearly a week after the state legislature’s deadline to submit bills for authorization, the Governor’s Office announced that Brown signed roughly two dozen bills.

Those included Cunningham’s AB 2986, which requires all ride-share apps such as Lyft and Uber to provide to customers a picture of a driver, the driver’s first name and a picture of the vehicle the driver is approved to use.

The bill was written after Santa Maria resident Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, 40, was arrested and charged with the rape, sexual assault and robbery of four San Luis Obispo women. They were allegedly attacked after getting separate rides from Alarcon-Nunez, who was a driver for Uber.

Alfonso Alarconnunez
Former Uber driver Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, 40, is charged with raping three intoxicated female riders in San Luis Obispo in January. SLO Sheriff's Office

San Luis Obispo police identified Alarcon-Nunez as a suspect in two separate sexual assault cases with several victims. One occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 18, the other on Jan. 14.

Investigators said Alarcon-Nunez searched for parties and targeted intoxicated women, gave them rides home and escorted them inside, where he then sexually assaulted them. Police said they believe he also stole property from the victims, including jewelry, cellphones and computers.

Alarcon-Nunez would respond to other drivers’ calls to parties, according to police, and would then pick up passengers using a pseudonym before the actual driver arrived.

He would then collect payment through Venmo, a pay service app, to disguise his identity and his Uber records, police said.

On Jan. 22, the District Attorney’s Office filed 10 felony charges against Alarcon-Nunez, including charges of forcible rape, rape by use of drugs and oral copulation by anesthesia or controlled substance.

District Attorney Dan Dow said that the victims include three Cal Poly students and a Cuesta College student.

Alarcon-Nunez has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court Sept. 10.

“One instance of a predator using ride-share services to commit violent and sexual crimes is one too many,” Cunningham said. “This bill provides much-needed protections for riders and is a step towards restoring faith in these services.”

In a statement to The Tribune, a spokeswoman for Uber called the allegations against one of its employees “absolutely horrifying,” and said the company is cooperating with San Luis Obispo police’s investigation.

Cunningham, a Republican, represents the 35th Assembly District encompassing San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.

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Footage released by police in Tempe, Arizona, shows the moment a female pedestrian pushing her bicycle was knocked down by a self-driving Uber car on March 18. The victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, later died in the hospital from her injuries.

Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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