The family of a college student who was found dead hours after getting into a car she mistook for an Uber called on ride-share services to better protect customers.
Samantha L. Josephson’s family made the plea on Wednesday, when her funeral was held at a New Jersey synagogue where she had her bat mitzvah.
Turkey hunters found the body of the 21-year-old University of South Carolina student in a field 14 hours after she got in a vehicle last Friday in Columbia.
“The family’s message that it hopes people — young adults for certain — take from this senseless killing … is that the ride-share community, Uber and Lyft, learn from this and take ownership of the fortune made by their customers,” Seth Josephson, a cousin, read from a family statement outside of Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction.
“Education and laws need to be put in to place to protect people in the ride-share industry. With the millions of dollars, it earns, the Ubers and the Lyfts should be compelled to adjust its business model, better assuring its riders’ safety,” Seth Josephson said.
Josephson’s family also said passengers should verify the pickup details before getting into vehicles.
Uber said it will launch an awareness campaign
CNN reached out to the companies after the family comments. Lyft did not provide a statement.
Uber responded with an earlier statement indicating it has worked with law enforcement since 2017 “to educate the public about how to avoid fake ride-share drivers.”
“Everyone at Uber is devastated to hear about this unspeakable crime, and our hearts are with Samantha Josephson’s family and loved ones. We spoke with the University of South Carolina President and will be partnering with the university to raise awareness on college campuses nationwide about this incredibly important issue,” a spokesperson said in the statement.
Uber said it plans to launch a “Check Your Ride” passenger awareness campaign on social media in the upcoming weeks and will purchase advertisements in college newspapers.
Ride-share apps have several safety features that provide checks for riders so that they don’t get into the wrong vehicle.
The Uber app, for example, informs riders of the vehicle’s make, model and color, the license plate number and the driver’s name and photo. Uber and Lyft allow drivers and riders to text or call each other, and riders can send their trip information and location to friends during the ride.
Under current state law, ride-share drivers are required to have reflective stickers.
Lawmakers in South Carolina House of Representatives introduced legislation this week requiring ride-share vehicles to display illuminated signs.
Josephson, 21, had requested an Uber ride around 2 a.m. Friday, and was last seen getting into a black Chevy Impala, said Columbia Police Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook. Her body had multiple sharp force injuries when turkey hunters found her later that day in a field in Clarendon County, about 90 miles away.
Surveillance video showed Josephson outside a bar standing by herself on a curb on the morning she disappeared. She takes several steps toward a black vehicle that pulls up to a parking spot. She reaches for the door handle of the vehicle as it slows down and gets inside.
Josephson and her roommates got separated the night they went out, Holbrook said. Her roommates grew worried the next morning and called police around 1:30 p.m. Friday to report her missing, Holbrook said.
Police arrested Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, after an officer saw him driving an Impala that matched the description of the vehicle seen in the surveillance video. Police found Josephson’s blood in the car’s passenger side and trunk, authorities said.
Her cell phone was found in the passenger compartment, police said. Investigators also found a container of liquid bleach, germicidal wipes and window cleaner in the car, Holbrook said.
Rowland faces charges of murder and kidnapping.
He waived his right to a scheduled court appearance on Sunday. Fielding Pringle, his public defender, declined to comment
Vigil held in New Jersey
On Tuesday night, a candlelight vigil was held for Josephson in Robbinsville, the New Jersey town where she grew up, CNN affiliate WPVI reported.
“I don’t want anybody else to go through it as a parent,” said Seymour Josephson, her father told the crowd gathered a park.
Her boyfriend, Greg Corbishley, said through tears that he had been on the phone tracking Josephson early Friday morning to make sure she got home safely.
“(I) immediately knew that there was something wrong,” he said, according to WPVI. “Unfortunately, I was two and a half hours away. I’d do anything to go back.”
‘A wonderful girl’
Seth Josephson said the sadness the family feels “will never end.”
“It may wane in the future but will always leave a hole in the heart of a fun, loving, generous, kind parents and sister,” he said. “Today, they don’t know and can’t contemplate how they can think of the future.”
Josephson planned to study law in the fall at Drexel University in Philadelphia, her father said.
“Samantha was a wonderful girl,” Seth Josephson said.