Nearly a full year after a man driving for Uber allegedly struck and killed a 6-year-old girl, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office has decided to charge him with a single misdemeanor count.
57-year-old Union City man Syed Muzzafar told police he was searching for fares via Uber's app as he drove his Honda Pilot through the Tenderloin at 8 p.m. on December 31, 2013. Some have suggested that that's what was distracting him when he made a right turn at Ellis and Polk Streets, where police and prosecutors say that he struck three people who were crossing with the green light in the crosswalk: 6-year-old Sofia Liu, her 4-year-old brother, and her mom.
Liu was killed in the collision, her mother was critically injured, and her brother suffered injuries not considered life-threatening by police.
Following the collision, Liu's family filed a wrongful death suit against Uber, which had initially denied that Muzzafar was working for the company at the time of the collision, CBS5 notes. After they admitted that Muzzafar was indeed a driver for the company, Uber then argued that as drivers like Muzzafar are independent contractors, the ride-sharing company isn't responsible for their actions, and that it was on a driver's private insurance to take care of claims like this one. In May, they asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, but according to the Liu family's attorney, it remains active.
Muzzafar, who had been convicted of reckless driving in 2004, was initially booked on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. On Monday, the DA's office instead opted to charge him with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
According to the Chron, the lesser charge was because "there was no evidence to suggest gross negligence on his part, investigators said. A felony charge is typically lodged if the driver, for example, had been under the influence."
After the charges were lodged, an arrest warrant was issued for Muzzafar, who turned himself in and was swiftly released on $50,000 bail. He's expected to return to court on Wednesday for his arraignment.
Update: Through her family's lawyer, Liu's mother, Huan Kaung said in a statement that:
The last thing I saw before the Uber driver killed my little girl, and forever changed my life, was him looking down at his phone. Uber killed my daughter. The driver is a man who was working to feed his family and he did wrong but Uber is the one who makes the drivers look at their phones as part of the way they do business. Uber is just as responsible as Muzaffar but they say they are not. This is wrong. That is why we are suing Uber to get them to be held responsible and to change the way they do business.