Teen girl says she was traumatized after escaping alleged Uber kidnapping

The young girl says the incident has left her in a constant state of fear.

October 24, 2019, 4:40 PM

A young girl who was allegedly kidnapped by her Uber driver over the summer says the incident has left her in a constant state of fear, so much so that she says she's afraid to use ride-hailing services ever again.

The 15-year-old and her attorneys, Rosemonde Cely and Lorna Lightfoot-Ware, sat down with ABC News for an interview which aired Thursday on “Good Morning America.”

"It's affected my school life, my friends, my family," she said. "It's had such a negative impact on me. Everywhere I go, I feel scared because I'm so much more aware of my surroundings now."

The Long Island teenager said she used to take Uber rides on a regular basis before the traumatizing encounter on July 12, when Sean Williams, a 32-year-old Uber driver from Brooklyn, allegedly tried to force her to go to his home "where he intended to sexually assault her," according to the Nassau County District Attorney's Office.

The teen, whom ABC News is not naming because she is a minor, requested a ride home from a Sweet 16 party in Atlantic Beach, New York, which is about 15 miles away from her home in Merrick, but Williams allegedly canceled the route and tried to convince the girl to go drinking with him instead, prosecutors said.

The teen said she told Williams her age and repeatedly asked that he take her home, but he allegedly refused and continued driving west, in the wrong direction. He also forced her to sit in the front seat, which made it hard for her to use her phone to call for help, she said.

PHOTO: Sean Williams, 32, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is accused of kidnapping.
Sean Williams, 32, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is accused of kidnapping.
Nassau County District Attorney

"It's hard for me to open up and, like, trust people now because I put trust in that I would be able to get home safely. And I was not able to get home safely that night," she told "GMA." "He kept asking me, like, if I wanted to go out for drinks with him sometime. And I said, 'No, 'cause I'm 15. I can't go out to drinks. And, like, I just want to get home.' But he kept, you know, insisting on that."

She figured out a way to escape once they arrived in Brooklyn, authorities said. The teen told the driver she needed a bathroom, and when he pulled over, she ran into a McDonald's and called police, prosecutors said.

Williams allegedly followed her into the McDonald's but fled before police arrived, prosecutors said. He was arrested four days later and charged with second-degree kidnapping, second-degree kidnapping as a sexually motivated felony, endangering the welfare of a child, and unlawful imprisonment. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in late August and was later released on $150,000 bail, according to his attorney.

"My client adamantly denies doing anything of any nature that can be construed as criminal," his defense attorney, Steven Gaitman, told ABC News. "The facts and circumstances as alleged leave much to be debated at trial, which my client is looking forward to."

A spokesperson for Uber said the company is cooperating with authorities as they investigate the case.

"What has been reported is deeply alarming and the driver’s access to the app was immediately removed when we learned about the incident," the spokesperson told ABC News. "We continue to cooperate with law enforcement on their case."

Uber riders can share their trip with loved ones so it can be tracked and monitored -- a safety feature which the company notes says is not available when taking other forms of transportation, such as a taxi. Uber terms, which drivers and riders agree to, state that anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult to ride with Uber, and account holders must be over 18, according to the company.

Despite those terms, in this case, the mother ordered the Uber for her 15-year-old daughter to go to the event and, later that evening, told her to order one home so she could track the trip, according to Uber.

PHOTO: A screen displays the company logo for Uber Technologies Inc. on the day of it's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York on May 10, 2019.
A screen displays the company logo for Uber Technologies Inc. on the day of it's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York on May 10, 2019.
Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters, File

Earlier this year, the San Francisco-based company launched an awareness campaign called "From Car Seat to College," which aims to "proactively educate families on safety with Uber." As part of the campaign, the company says it is collaborating with the National Parent Teacher Association to deliver important safety tips and information to families across the United States so they know how to use the app appropriately and to help them have a safe experience when using the app with family.

The young girl's family called the case a scary reminder of how dangerous ride-hailing can be. Her aunt signaled that she was aware of the waves of sexual assault allegations plaguing the ride-sharing industry, but she never imagined that the issue would hit so close to home.

"I don't take Uber now any longer. Even on business trips, I won't take an Uber now any longer and I certainly wouldn't advise her to do it," her aunt said. "I've given the same advice to my coworkers and I would not put myself in that position, just because there's no guarantee that you're going to be safe."

As for the victim, she said she wants her story to serve as a warning for people who use ride-sharing services without being mindful of the risks. If possible, she said, it's better to hitch a ride with someone you know.

"I think parents should be monitoring their kids more and becoming more aware," the teenager said. "I think they should be more wary [because] this can happen to you. This can happen to your kids."

ABC News' Linsey Davis and Kieran McGirl contributed to this report.

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