CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jonathan Neal appeared in court on Thursday afternoon after being accused of sexually assaulting an Uber driver outside of uptown Charlotte.
A search warrant Channel 9 obtained details the attack, saying Neal got into the victim’s car at Walmart on Albemarle Road early Saturday morning.
She told police he fondled her as she was driving before forcing her behind a storage facility on North Graham Street. That’s the location police say Neal sexually assaulted her.
His arrest has put rideshare drivers on high alert. Neal is the kind of customer that drivers in the rideshare business fear the most.
"Sometimes your heart is beating because you don't know who is going to get into the car," cab driver Accelhomme Saintcyr said.
A female cab driver, who wished to remain unnamed, said because of situations like this, she put a strict limit on when she gets behind the wheel.
"6 o'clock, I'm home," the driver said. "It's tough to drive, do what men do as a female. I'm sorry about the lady, what happened to her, it's not fair."
Professional cabbies think that rideshare drivers don't necessarily consider the risks. Cab driver Awny Allesa said one of the things he recommends to other drivers is using a dash camera.
Allesa said he has been driving for 12 years and tries to talk to customers before the ride begins to try to feel them out.
Lyft driver Brian is a rookie by comparison, driving for the company for a couple of months. He said the sexual assault on the Uber driver is a wake up call.
"I don't like the thought of that happening to anybody," Brian said. I absolutely wouldn't like that happening to me."
Ride sharing companies do not offer extensive safety training because drivers are classified as independent contractors, not employees.
Officers arrested Neal on Tuesday.
"I think the opportunity presented itself for the suspect,” CMPD Lt. Brad Koch said at a news conference Tuesday.
Neal is charged with second-degree sexual assault, second-degree sexual offense and sexual battery.
This is not the first time Neal has been charged with a crime.
In 2015, Neal, who was a football player at Mallard Creek High School, raped a 14-year-old student in the school.
He pleaded guilty to sexual battery and kidnapping and was sent to prison in 2016. He was released on parole in April.
Neal was listed as a registered sex offender on the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry as of April 17.
One of the reasons police said they were able to identify Neal as a suspect was because he used the Uber app and left an electronic trail for them to follow.
“Yes, we were in communication with Uber, and they were very cooperative with the investigation,” Sgt. Alli Rooks with CMPD said.
Police said this type of crime is very rare.
“Most of our cases, 90 percent, are known to the victim, so this is an unusual circumstance,” Rooks said.
They said the woman was treated for injuries at the hospital.
Uber released the statement below:
"Our thoughts are with our driver-partner during this difficult time. What was reported is disturbing beyond measure. We're grateful the suspect is in custody and thank the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for their work on this case."
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