Attorney for Family of Long Beach Man Fatally Shot by Homeowner Says Uber Needs New Safety Procedures

Attorneys representing the parents of a Long Beach man who drunkenly broke into a residence in 2014 and was fatally shot by the homeowner believe Uber needs to update its policies to handle situations involving intoxicated passengers.

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Ryan Anderson, 29, requested an Uber driver in the early hours of Sunday, August 10 after a night of celebrating a new photography job and a friend’s birthday in Long Beach.

Uber driver Festus Ekuma Okoh of Buena Park allegedly witnessed Anderson acting extremely inebriated and confused, with an unsteady walk and slurred speech, according to a lawsuit filed January 7.

The complaint stated that, though Anderson did not do anything that could have been perceived as a threat to Okoh’s safety, Okoh “stopped the car and ejected” him just a few blocks from his home at Newport Avenue and Third Street.

Anderson eventually trespassed into the home of John and Lou Ann Reynolds, having apparently mistaken it for his own, according to the complaint.

John Reynolds then shot and killed Anderson. The lawsuit alleges Anderson was shot despite posing no threat. 

The lawsuit names the Reynolds, Okoh and Uber as defendants.

According to a previously-issued press release from the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), Anderson allegedly scaled a wall to gain access into the backyard, broke a window, and proceeded to steal items from the house before John Reynolds shot him multiple times.

Officers originally responded to the incident at about 2:30AM as a burglary in process, and LBPD officials stated they found personal property belonging to the Reynolds on him.

Those items were a beverage and a remote control, according to the Andersons' attorney Andrew Biren. He said though Anderson was trespassing, in his drunken state, the prosecution believes he was not committing a burglary.

Friends previously described him as a pacifist and "never confrontational."

“We really do believe that Uber does a good thing and this is what they are supposed to be doing—which is helping people not drink and drive," said Biren. “But the fact that Uber doesn't have policies and procedures in place in how to deal with people who are extremely inebriated—which is not an unusual situation—is troublesome.”

In fact, aside from a basic online road driving course, Uber drivers receive no formal training or direction regarding safety procedures, according to a local Uber driver who spoke with the Post on the condition of anonymity.

The driver said on one occasion last year, he picked up a passenger in his early 20s from a bar on Second Street. At one point during the trip, the man began acting “very unruly” by beating the back of the driver’s seat. The man decided to end the ride short and let himself out when the driver told him to stop.

In another instance, the driver picked up two women and a man near El Dorado Park and was scheduled to drop them off at Panama Joe’s on Second Street.

“By the time we got to Second Street, one of the passengers had passed out and she couldn’t stand up and get out of my car,” the driver said.

The male passenger got out of the car and left, but the driver ended up giving the two female passengers a free ride to one of their homes in Long Beach.

“I took a big chance,” the driver added, noting that it could have turned into a medical situation.

The driver reported the incident to Uber support personnel, whose advice included having the driver use his own discretion.

“As an independent contractor, it’s your discretion whether to accept or refuse the trip," Uber support told the driver in an e-mail. "You are certainly never required to start a trip with a passenger. If transporting drunk passengers makes you feel uncomfortable, you are welcome to politely decline a trip and explain the reason. We always trust your judgment.” 

Another representative gave a similar response via email.

“I fully understand your concern about having intoxicated riders on your trip since with alcohol comes unexpected behaviors that can be challenging even for our most seasoned partners to manage," the email read. "As part of Uber, we are proud to play a part in reducing the number of drunk driving accidents in cities we’ve entered. If you are not comfortable with driving for drunk riders, you can always politely decline a trip if you want to.”

According to the driver, declining a ride is more complicated, since drivers are rated based on how many stars passengers give them and the acceptance rate of the rides drivers are pinged on. Getting a low rating may cause Uber to deactivate a driver, he said.

Though Uber management has direct messaging options with its contracted drivers who have questions, it is not available in the Los Angeles market, according to the driver.

“Our only way of communicating with Uber is via email, and at best, they get back to you in two hours," the driver said. 

In April 2014, Uber announced a $1 Safe Rides fee for uberX rides, which funds background checks, regular motor vehicle screenings, driver safety education, current and future development of safety features in the app, and more, according to a press release at the time.

According to the driver, the Safe Rides fee in the area currently stands at $1.65 per ride.

Attorneys for the Anderson family said they do not have a specific monetary amount they are asking for in the lawsuit, but they will ask for damages that “reflect the magnitude of [the plaintiff’s] devastating loss.”

Above, left: File photo.

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