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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Why Samantha Josephson Could Have Been Any of Us

Rania Mankarious
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Sunday Mornings with RaniaThe devastating death of 21-year-old Samantha Josephson last week got all our attention. The University of South Carolina senior called an Uber around 2 a.m. on Friday after being separated from her roommates during a night out in Columbia. The only problem was the black Chevy Impala that pulled up wasn’t the Uber she booked. About 14 hours later, her body was found in a field more than 60 miles from Columbia. The story deeply impacted me and countless others who began reaching out. We all felt that parents everywhere needed to remind our ride-sharing youth of the absolute DO’s and DON’Ts of staying safe while traveling via ride-share.  

What Went Wrong? 
This wonderful young woman, a political science major and beloved daughter of a family living in Robbinsville Township, NJ, had her whole life ahead of her - in fact, she was set to graduate in May and received a scholarship to attend law school at Drexel University in the fall. On this fateful night, she was seemingly just hopping into another Uber - a service that is so widespread there are roughly 15 million Uber rides and 3 million drivers globally; in the US there are 750,000 drivers and 41.8 million users (according to Uber, March 2018 - Please note, since Uber allows for “casual workers” to float on and off the platform, these numbers cannot be absolutely confirmed).

So what went wrong? According to surveillance footage, Josephson called for a car and stood outside waiting. Allegedly, Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, drove by and gathered she was waiting for a ride and pulled up.Surveillance video shows Josephson jumping in without hesitation. She wasn’t taken home but instead was driven to a rural part of Clarendon County and the child safety locks activated in the backseat, leaving her no way to exit once she realized her mistake. Her body was found the next day in a field with multiple sharp force injuries to her head, neck, face, upper body, leg and foot. Her blood was found in Rowland’s passenger side and trunk along with her cell phone in his car. The investigators also found a container of liquid bleach, germicidal wipes and window cleaner in the car. 

The Conversations we all Must Have Now:

Ask yourself, does your child, teen, young adult take Uber, Lyft or other ride-sharing services? If so, talk to them about Josephson’s story because we cannot let this happen again. According to Uber,  the company has many safety measures in place, including:

  • Share My Trip. The feature allows travelers to share their route with friends or family.
  • Safety Center. The app has a dedicated place where riders can learn about key safety information. 
  • Trusted Contacts and Share My Trip. Riders can designate up to five trusted contacts who can see where the rider is at all times but now the app will remind riders to share trip details with those contacts during every ride. Your driver's first name, vehicle info, and your map location in real-time will be shared.
  • 911 Assistance. Allows you to connect directly with 911 and shows you your real-time location. 
  • Annual Background Check Reruns. Uber used to conduct background check reruns only in cities where it was required by law. Now they’ll proactively rerun criminal and motor vehicle checks each year and receive notifications when a driver is involved in harmful or criminal activity. 

Beyond Uber’s safety advice, there’s more to talk to users about: 

  • Know the Safety Apps. Be familiar with the safety features of the app but still use it wisely. 
  • Share Your Trip with Friends. Use Uber alone during the day and share your ride with trusted contacts. 
  • Stay Together. In the evening, stay with friends. Please. As Josephson’s father said: "I don’t want anyone else to go through this again; what we learned is … you guys have to travel together. If there’s two of you, something is less likely to happen. Samantha was by herself – she had absolutely no chance. None.”   
  • If You’re Drunk. Do not use a ride-sharing service if you are drunk and alone. If you’re going to drink, plan to stay with a group and even if you plan to use a car service, have one designated person who remains sober. 
  • Have a Back-up Plan. If you end up alone or have been drinking or if it’s late, have a pre-determined friend you can call to pick you up. 
  • Don’t Look Like You’re Waiting for a Ride. Instead of waiting outside clearly waiting for a ride, wait inside until the app shows your driver has arrived.
  • Check Before You Get in the Car. Check that the license plate, driver photo, and name match what’s listed in the app. 
  • Make Them Say Your Name. Ask them, “Who are you here to pick up?” and wait for them to say your name. Do not ask: “Are you my driver, Joe?” Anyone can say yes to that.
  • Buckle Up and Sit in the Back Seat. Buckling up keeps you safe and staying in the back seat should give you an opportunity to exit the vehicle if you feel uncomfortable. 
  • You Can Keep Your Phone Number Private. Remember the app automatically keeps your number private; you can keep it that way. 
  • Follow your Intuition. If you feel uncomfortable by the driver who pulls up, don’t get in. If you feel uncomfortable during the ride, ask the driver to pull over. If you’re in an emergency situation, call 911 immediately.

As I write this, I literally cannot stop thinking about Samantha Josephson. Her parents are suffering the unimaginable. Her friends are also suffering, not just from the loss but from the reality of what she went through being alone that evening. And while the legal system will run its course with the suspect, none of that will bring this wonderful life back. What we must do is honor Josephson by making sure what happened to her does not and cannot happen to others we know and love.

Please, in honor of her life and legacy, share these tips with others, talk about them, make the young people in your life promise each other they will take this information to heart and let’s all do whatever it takes to keep each other safe. 

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