Kalamazoo, MI

Kalamazoo's Infamous Shooting That Inspired Uber App To Improve Its Security Features

Shenba

The notorious shooter testified that the Uber App encouraged him to kill

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Uber app logos - old and new /By author with Canva

Uber, founded in 2010, is one of the celebrated tech giants.

Yet, in 2016, when its app got all the security updates, its passengers did not. People widely criticized the company for its lack of stringent background checks. It even led to some serious mishaps.

Jason Dalton was a middle-aged insurance adjuster with a lovely family. He grew up in Indiana but later moved to Michigan for better prospects and a peaceful lifestyle.

Jason graduated from the Kalamazoo Valley Community College with an associate degree in law enforcement. He, however, chose not to join the police force. Instead, Jason studied auto body works from WyoTech, Wyoming. Later, he joined BMW as a mechanic before becoming an insurance adjuster.

His friends remembered him as the timid guy who didn’t want to get into any trouble. Yet, he proved them wrong.

The Uber Driver Life

Jason enjoyed working with cars. But he had another hobby — collecting guns.

Once, a thief broke into Jason’s house and stole some of his favorite tools. This incident affected him, and he started buying guns for safety. Soon, he became obsessed with them.

Around the same time, some allege that Jason also had mental health issues. He went through some rough times, and those incidents affected him. However, few knew about this.

In early 2016, Uber launched its services in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Jason wanted to make some extra money to go on a nice vacation. So he applied, and Uber approved his application quickly. Jason became a driver in February and drove a silver Chevrolet Equinox. In the few weeks he’d been a driver, he received excellent ratings from hundreds of passengers.

Let me remind you that Jason was a middle-aged man. His knowledge of apps and technology was limited. So, when Jason got a briefing from Uber to use the app for directions, pickups, etc., he followed it diligently. And that ultimately led to some horrific events.

The D-Night — Incident #1

On February 20th, Jason met his friend at the gun store. Since collecting guns was his hobby, he’d regularly go to the store and check out new collections. Later that evening, he started his Uber shift.

Jason’s first passenger was Matt Mellon. Jason had his dog in his backseat, so Matt sat in the front. When the ride began, it seemed to be an ordinary Uber drive. Jason was using the Uber app for directions. But, he got a call from his family. He answered it, then changed back to the app.

And at that point, something switched in his brain.

Suddenly, Jason sped across the neighborhood at 70–80 miles per hour. Matt was terrified and repeatedly asked Jason to stop. But Jason never listened to him. Jason flew past stop signs and traffic lights. His driving was so reckless that Matt was actually bracing for impact from an accident.

Terrified, Matt then kept pointing at random houses as his destination and pled with Jason to stop. And only after a while, Jason slammed the brakes and shoved Matt out of his car.

Matt immediately called 911 and reported the reckless behavior of Jason. While the operator affirmed that the police would be on the lookout, she didn’t really take it seriously. Matt also filed a formal complaint through the Uber app. You can contact Uber in emergencies now, but in 2016, it wasn’t possible.

After dropping off Matt, Jason went home to get his gun and his bulletproof vest. Then, he went to pick more passengers.

The D-Night — Incident #2

Jason got a ride request from 15-year-old Macy.

Macy was at an apartment complex, but Jason couldn’t find her. Frustrated, he accused her of giving him the wrong directions. When Macy tried to explain, he got irritated and hung up on her.

So, while Macy was figuring out her ride, Jason came across Tiana.

Tiana had just got off work. Her daughter had some friends over, and they all wanted to go to another friend’s house. So, Tiana accompanied them to that friend’s house.

So when they were waiting to cross the street, Jason pulled up next to them. He assumed she was Macy and kept asking her to get into the car. Tiana tried to explain that she wasn’t the person he was looking for, but he didn’t listen to her. At some point, both of them were annoyed, and Jason drove away.

But, just when Tiana thought he was gone, he turned back and sped towards her with the gun pointed at her.

He opened fire at all of them — Tiana and the girls. Tiana screamed at the girls to run away and even acted as a human shield. She took four bullets while saving the girls. The neighbors heard the gunshots and rushed to help Tiana. She was taken to the hospital, where she survived.

The police got to the scene. The accounts from neighbors about a Silver Chevy and a dog in the backseat helped them recognize that it was the same driver about whom they got the 911 call.

The police then called Matt again to get the details of this driver. Matt sent them Jason’s picture and the vehicle number. Now, the police knew who they were searching for.

Yet, they still didn’t call Uber and suspend his account.

The D-Night — Incident #3

At around 5:45 pm, Jason ran a red signal and hit another car.

Luckily, Jordan and his wife, the passengers in the other car, weren’t injured. But they stopped and called 911 to report the incident.

Up until this point, Jason was driving a silver Chevy Equinox. But after the accident, his car had some damage. So, he called his wife and asked her to bring her car. And when she asked him what happened, he lied that he was attacked by a taxi driver.

When changing cars, Jason gave his wife some ridiculous instructions:

  • Keep your handgun loaded.
  • Keep the kids safe and never come out of the house. He even suggested skipping school and work for the next few days.
  • Watch the 11 pm news and know that it was me.

After saying this, he drove away in a Black Chevy HHR, not the car the police were searching for.

The D-Night — Incident #4

Jason continued picking up passengers. Even though people found it strange to see a black Chevy instead of a silver Chevy, they didn’t suspect him. In the meantime, Jason also hadn’t harmed anyone.

But at around 10 pm, Jason met the Smiths.

Rich Smith, his son Tyler, and his girlfriend, Alexis, were at a truck dealership. Alexis decided to stay in the car when the Smiths went to check out trucks for 17-year-old Tyler.

Jason walked up to the Smiths and asked them what they were looking for. But before they could respond, he shot both of them. Alexis witnessed the crime but was so scared that she hid under the front seat. And after Jason left, she rushed to the spot and called 911. However, unfortunately, it was too late for the Smiths.

Jason had committed his first murder of the night.

The D-Night — Incident #5

In less than 30 minutes, 911 got another call from a Cracker Barrel store.

Jason had shot four older women — Mary Jo, Mary Lou, Dorothy, and Barbara. With them was 14-year-old Abigail.

Jason had gone to Mary Lou. He asked her for a dollar to make America great again, but she refused. That angered him, and he shot her. He then went on to kill the other ladies too.

The police sped to the crime scene and found all four women dead. However, Abigail survived, despite being shot on her head. She was rushed to the hospital, and after multiple surgeries, therapy sessions, and rehab, the brave kid survived.

After this incident, Jason was still going around picking passengers. But the police now knew about the black Chevy. Eventually, after multiple false leads, they arrested Jason.

The horrific night finally came to an end.

Interrogation, Trial, and Verdict

When the police interrogated Jason, he turned into a calm, friendly person. He spoke to them in a cordial tone, with soft gestures.

However, every time the police asked him about his killing spree, he pled the fifth. But the police kept coaxing him, and he finally opened up.

Jason admitted to all the crimes he committed that night. He started his story from when he picked up Matt and told them everything. However, the police were more shocked by his tone. He was emotionless and spoke as if he was reporting incidents that happened to someone else.

Eventually, the police asked him why he behaved so recklessly. And his response is one of the most absurd replies I’ve ever heard.

He claimed that the Uber app encouraged him to give in to his inner demons. He associated the Uber app’s logo with the Eastern Star — a cult symbol. So he assumed that every time he clicked on that logo, the app took control of him and gave him special powers. He also believed that the app picked his targets for him.

The police didn’t know if he was making this up as an insanity defense. So, his case moved to court.

The first witness to testify against Jason was Tiana, who survived four gunshots. Now you may know how difficult it is to stand up against your bullies. But what Tiana had to go through in that courtroom was inhumane.

When Tiana was telling her story, Jason started harassing her. He intimidated her, and she started crying on the stand. He was scaring her so much that the police dragged him out of the room.

Some people claimed he was insane, and that’s why he was acting weirdly. Others argued he was intelligent enough to change cars, wear a bulletproof vest, secure his wife and kids, know his rights, and even plead the fifth. With no history of mental breakdowns, this seemed too convenient.

Nevertheless, he was sent for a psych evaluation. And after multiple hiccups, his trial date was finally set to January 2019 — 3 years after the shooting. Jason pled guilty to all accounts, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. He was charged with six counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and eight counts of felony use of a firearm.

Final Thoughts

This is one of those tragic stories where despite having multiple opportunities to stop the horrors, people failed.

Had someone called Uber to suspend Jason’s account, we probably could’ve prevented the murders. Had the first 911 call been taken seriously, we could’ve stopped this madness. And had Uber employed better safety measures, we wouldn’t have such horrific accounts.

Since this incident, Uber has taken significant safety measures. It began its stricter yearly background checks. It also included an SOS button in the app for both drivers and users to use in emergencies. While I’m not sure if this incident is the reason, but the company also changed its logo color to black.

While we may never know what triggered Jason, such stories prove we should never drop our guard. It’s heartbreaking to see people who’d done nothing wrong, except for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting killed.

But we must also appreciate the fighting spirits of the survivors. Tiana, Abigail, and every victim’s family inspire us never to lose hope and courage. Justice will be served.

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