Matt Mellen feared for his life as he rode an Uber to a friend's house on Saturday.
The driver swerved through oncoming traffic lanes in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at 80 miles per hour and ignored at least one stop sign, according to a Facebook post Mellen's fiancée Mackenzie Waite wrote around 5:30 PM. But as she called 9-1-1 and complained to the company, the driver, Jason B. Dalton, was gearing up to do far worse than drive recklessly, according to police.
Dalton, 45, was charged with six counts of murder on Monday after prosecutors say he went on a shooting spree in three different locations, wounding two more people. The victims include 53-year-old Richard Smith and his teenaged son Tyler, who were killed at about 10 PM at a car dealership, as well as four women—Mary Lou Nye, 62; Mary Jo Nye, 60; Dorothy Brown, 74; and Barbara Hawthorn, 68—who were sitting in their cars outside a Cracker Barrel when Dalton allegedly opened fire there about 15 minutes later.
A 14-year-old girl in the car with the women was critically wounded.
Dalton's initial act of violence is said to have come some four hours earlier, when he allegedly opened fire outside a rental townhouse and wounded an unidentified woman. Neighbors found her laying in a parking lot, the house festooned with bullet holes. Dalton—who according to the New York Times worked for Progressive Insurance until mid-2011—was eventually taken into custody without incident when cops spotted his car at a downtown bar around 12:45 AM.
The tragedy came during a weekend that saw at least five other mass shootings in the United States. But what's especially troubling about the Kalamazoo deaths is that there doesn't seem to be any motive or even a whiff of logic connecting the shootings, a degree of randomness that left the western Michigan city desperate for answers.
"How do you go and tell the families of these victims that they weren't targeted for any reason than they were there to be a target?" Kalamazoo County prosecutor Jeffrey Getting asked in a Sunday news conference.
Meanwhile, Mellen may not have even been the last person to ride in Dalton's car that night. A Twitter user who goes by Black Mamba tweeted a screenshot suggesting Dalton gave him a ride around 8 PM, apparently in the midst of the carnage. Another woman named Megan Knight told the New York Daily News that a co-worker requested Dalton's Uber shortly after 11 PM but canceled it at the last minute. Carmen Morren told the Times that she, too, canceled: Dalton was set to pick them up at a local pub at 11 PM when she and her husband decided to ride with a different Uber driver just minutes before his arrival.
A man named Derek, who gave only his first name, wasn't as lucky, telling a local NBC affiliate that he ordered the Dalton's Uber as a safety measure after hearing about the spree. Derek said Dalton pulled up and that he and his family climbed aboard.
"I kind of jokingly said to the driver, 'You're not the shooter, are you?'" Derek recalled. "He gave me some sort of a 'no' response... shook his head... "I said, 'Are you sure?' And he said, 'No, I'm not, I'm just tired.' And we proceeded to have a pretty normal conversation after that."
Less than 20 minutes later, police caught up with the suspect.
Dalton has no criminal record, with an Uber spokesperson indicating he passed a company background check. But neighbors suggested that even if they never suspected he was capable of such wanton brutality, Dalton wasn't exactly a low-key presence.
"He periodically shot his gun out the back door," neighbor Sally Pardo told the Times. "He would shoot randomly into the air."
Dalton has been married since 1995 and has two children who are aged 15 and ten. In addition to the six murder charges, he was slapped with eight gun charges and two counts of assault with intent to commit murder. He faces up to life in prison.
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