A 16-year-old girl was rescued from a sex trafficking ring after her Uber driver recognized warning signs and took action.
Keith Avila, who has been an Uber driver for about a month, picked up three women in Elk Grove, California, on Monday night. He noticed that one of the passengers appeared to be very young, and was dressed oddly for her age.
But it was the conversation between one of the women and the young girl that alarmed Avila, as he explained to KCRA3:
Avila said the woman told the girl, “‘First thing you want to do is ask: Do you have any weapons? When you’re hugging him, just ask, do you have any weapons? Pat him down. Pat him down while you’re hugging him. Get the donation, first. Before you start touching him, going in there, get the donation first.’”
This discussion, coupled with the girl’s attire, alerted Avila to the possibility that child sex trafficking was taking place in his car.
After dropping all three off at the Holiday Inn Express in Elk Grove, Avila said he moved to a safe distance and immediately called police.
Elk Grove public information officer Chris Trim told NBC Latino that police immediately detained Destiny Pettway, 25, and Maria Westley, 31, when they arrived at the scene. Police found the teen trafficking victim with Disney Vang, 20, in a hotel room.
Pettaway and Westley were arrested and charged with pimping and pandering, and their bail was set to $500,000. Vang was arrested on suspicions of sexual activity with a minor, and has since been released.
Police said the victim was discovered to be a runaway, and she was sent to stay in an “alternative housing situation” until her parents or guardians could be located.
Avila told NBCLatino that he didn’t expect to encounter such a disturbing scenario when he became an Uber driver:
“The worst thing I thought would happen when driving Uber is that I would be getting drunk passengers and I would have to handle them. All my life, I thought about people throwing up in the car as the worst scenario.”
When asked why he decided to get involved, Avila said:
“Honestly, I didn’t think about it… They said what they said, and it’s one of those things that you just do. I can’t just drive away. I’m mean, of course not. That’s not even an option.”
Officer Trim told Fox40 the police are grateful to Avila for taking action:
“He could’ve said nothing. Went on his way, collected his fare. And then that 16-year-old victim could’ve been victimized again by who knows how many different people over the next couple of days, weeks, months.”
Uber also congratulated and thanked Avila:
A member of the Uber Safety Team reached out to Avila over the phone to congratulate him for his work, and to inform him that all three people involved in the incident have been permanently banned from Uber. In an email, an Uber representative reiterated their admiration for his quick thinking and thanked him again.
“Maintaining the platform as a safe and comfortable place for both riders and driver partners is very important to us, and any incident that disrupts that experience for either party is one we take very seriously,” the email read.
“We appreciate your professionalism in a difficult situation,” the message added.
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