Irvine mother alleges sexual assault by Lyft driver, says company failed to prevent attack

IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- A once loyal Lyft customer is now fighting the ride-sharing company in court, claiming the company did nothing to prevent her from being sexually assaulted by a driver.

An Irvine mother - who only wants to be identified as Natasha - said it's now traumatizing to even be a passenger in a car.

"Even if I'm in a car, I have to avoid that side just because I have that feeling of what happened in that moment. I was just terrified," said Natasha.

She was taking a Lyft ride home in December 2018 when she was sexually assaulted by her driver Mario Cario Rojas, according to the complaint she filed in Orange County against Rojas and the ride-sharing company.

"Right when we got on the freeway, I tilted my head back and closed my eyes for a bit. It was late. I just woke up and he was groping me. I was stuck in a situation where I didn't know what to do. It's 3:00 in the morning, this guy is doing this, I'm not at home."

It's difficult for Natasha to put into words how she feels and recounting that night is even harder.

"I was screaming, "STOP! No! What are you doing?!"

Her pain was amplified after the Orange County District Attorney's Office declined to press charges against Rojas citing insufficient evidence.

"A lot of women, I feel, who haven't gone through that experience, or people in general, don't really understand what that feels like when it doesn't happen to you."

Her attorney Gregory Bentley said Lyft did little to protect his client from the alleged assault, and the trauma that followed, alleging in the complaint Lyft should've known about Rojas' prior legal problems.

"This particular driver had a DUI in 2005, he pled guilty to driving with no license in 2015. He gets hired by Lyft in 2017. Lyft had no continuous background check program in place after they hired him. If they would've they would've realized that, just a few months after he was hired in October, a temporary restraining order was issued by a judge in Orange County by his wife and three kids for physical abuse."

Lyft gave Eyewitness News this statement:

"Safety is fundamental to Lyft, and the driver has been permanently removed from the Lyft community. We continually invest in new policies and products to protect our riders and drivers, and last year alone launched more than 15 new features - including in-app emergency assistance, continuous criminal background monitoring of all of our drivers and mandatory feedback for rides rated less than four stars to ensure we are tracking any level of problematic behavior by drivers. In 2019, nearly one in five employees at Lyft were dedicated to initiatives that strengthen the platform's safety. We've also partnered with RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, to roll out required sexual violence prevention education. Our work on safety is never done, and we will continue to invest in new features, policies and protocols to ensure Lyft is the safest form of transportation for our riders and drivers."

But Bentley said Lyft has only recently changed their policies and they haven't assisted police in this particular case. He wants the company to be held accountable.

"Lyft, in their response, doesn't cooperate with the police department, doesn't speak with the police, doesn't give them documentation," he said.

As for the driver, Bentley said they're still fighting to put Rojas behind bars. Bentley has sent the Orange County DA more information, because he said Rojas needs to be held criminally responsible and Lyft should be held civilly responsible.

Attempts to reach Rojas for comment were unsuccessful.

Natasha just wants to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.

"It's changed everything for me," she said.
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