Man recounts harrowing Uber ride with suspect

2016-02-22 20:37
A makeshift memorial near a car dealership in Kalamazoo, where two people were shot dead. (AP)

A makeshift memorial near a car dealership in Kalamazoo, where two people were shot dead. (AP)

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Kalamazoo - An Uber passenger says he called the police to report an erratic driver more than an hour before authorities allege the driver began shooting people at random, killing six and wounding two others before being arrested.

Matt Mellen told WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo that Jason Dalton picked him up at around 16:30 on Saturday. He said Dalton introduced himself as "Me-Me" and that he sat in front, since Dalton had his dog in the backseat.

Mellen said about a 1.6km into the trip, Dalton got a phone call and that when he hung up, he began driving erratically, blowing through stop signs and sideswiping cars.

"We were driving through medians, driving through the lawn, speeding along and when we came to a stop, I jumped out the car and ran away," said Mellen. He said he called the police and that when he got to his friend's house, his fiancée posted a warning to friends on Facebook.

Authorities allege that Dalton shot the first victim outside an apartment complex a little more than an hour later and that he shot seven others over the next several hours. Dalton, 45, was arrested without incident early on Sunday morning after a deputy spotted his vehicle driving through downtown Kalamazoo after leaving a bar parking lot.

Authorities have not provided a motive for what they said was his targeting of victims with no apparent connection to him or to each other in the Saturday night shootings.

"How do you go and tell the families of these victims that they weren't targeted for any reason other than they were there to be a target?" Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said at a Sunday news conference.

County Undersheriff Paul Matyas described a terrifying series of attacks that began about 18:00 on Saturday outside the Meadows apartment complex on the eastern edge of Kalamazoo County, where a woman was shot multiple times. She was expected to survive.

A little more than four hours later and 24km away, a father and his 17-year-old son were fatally shot while looking at cars at a car dealership.

Fifteen minutes after that, five people were gunned down in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, Matyas said. Four of them died.

"These are random murders," he said.

Matyas declined to disclose anything found in Dalton's vehicle, except for a semi-automatic handgun.

By midday on Sunday, authorities were investigating a Facebook post that indicated that Dalton was driving for Uber during the manhunt and had taken at least one fare, Getting said.

A spokesperson for Uber confirmed that Dalton was a driver for the company, but she declined to say whether he was driving on Saturday night.

Uber prohibits both passengers and drivers from possessing guns of any kind in a vehicle. Anyone found to be in violation of the policy may be prohibited from using or driving for the service.

A man who knows Dalton said he was a married father of two who never showed any signs of violence.

Gary Pardo jnr, whose parents live across the street from Dalton in Kalamazoo Township, described him as a family man who seemed fixated on cars and often worked on them.

"He would go a month without mowing his lawn, but was very meticulous with his cars," Pardo said, explaining that Dalton, at times, owned a Chevrolet Camaro and two Hummer SUVs.

Progressive Insurance confirmed that he once worked for the company before leaving in 2011.

Dalton was an insurance adjuster who did auto-body estimates and once taught an auto-body repair class at an area community college, said James Block, who has lived next door to him for 17 years.

"He loved to do things outside with his kids" like taking them for rides on his lawn tractor, Block said.

Dalton's wife and children were unhurt, authorities said.

The suspect was in contact with more than one person during the rampage, authorities said, but they would not elaborate. Prosecutors said they did not expect to charge anyone else.

Authorities were interviewing Dalton and reviewing his phone. They did not know if the handgun belonged to him, Getting said.

"This is every community's nightmare - when you have someone going around just randomly killing people, no rhyme, no reason," Getting said.

Tammy George said the woman who was shot outside the apartment building is her next-door neighbour. She and her family heard the gunfire, ran outside and saw the woman on the ground.

Four bullets flew into a closet of George's home, she said. Her son, James, was playing video games with two friends a few feet away from where the bullets pierced the wall.

"I checked out the back window and saw a car speeding off," said James George, 17.

The four people killed outside the restaurant were identified as 62-year-old Mary Lou Nye of Baroda and 60-year-old Mary Jo Nye, 68-year-old Barbara Hawthorne and 74-year-old Dorothy Brown, all of Battle Creek.

The two victims killed at the car dealership were identified as Tyler Smith and his father, Richard, who was 53.

A 14-year-old girl wounded at the restaurant was hospitalised in critical condition.


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