A British couple who visited New Jersey last week for a friend’s wedding was shocked to discover that the friendly Uber driver who picked them up at Newark’s airport is the man accused of mowing down cyclists and pedestrians in New York City Tuesday, an attack that left eight people dead.
Damian Erskine, 34, a graphic designer, and his girlfriend ordered an Uber by cellphone and were picked up by a “polite and friendly” man in a white Toyota Sienna, who helped them with their bags, offered them water, and engaged in friendly conversation throughout the roughly hour-long drive.
Tuesday night after returning to London, Erskine told CNN, he was watching news coverage about the terror attack in New York and the man suspected of carrying it out. He remembered thinking that it was scary to realize that he had been in lower Manhattan less than a week before this happened.
“A little later when they showed a picture of the guy, I thought, he looks really familiar,” Erskine said. “On the picture they gave his name and it said he was an Uber driver, and I said hang on – I looked at my Uber receipt on my phone … it showed the driver’s name and the picture, and I asked my girlfriend, am I being crazy, is this jet lag? I was almost trying to convince myself that it wasn’t him.
“Then it suddenly hit me – it was the same guy,” he said.
Erskine sent CNN a screenshot of his receipt, which said in the middle, “You rated Saipov (5 stars),” next to a small photo of the man who has been identified as Sayfullo Saipov, who allegedly drove a rented truck onto a bike path and struck as many people as he could.
“The color drained from my face, I did go cold. I never experienced something like that before. Hairs on my neck had gone cold.”
Erskine said he immediately called the FBI.
Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek native living in New Jersey, has been charged with providing material support to ISIS, violence and destruction of motor vehicles. He told investigators that ISIS videos inspired him, in particular one showing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to a federal criminal complaint.
But Erskine didn’t see any hint of radicalization in the time he spent with Saipov, a drive that cost him $41.65.
“We didn’t talk about politics and religion,” Erskine said. “It wasn’t deep and meaningful. It was just chitchat.
“I ran it through my head – was there anything like a red flag? – and there wasn’t.”
Erskine said Saipov asked the couple about the biggest differences between New York and London.
He told the couple of his history in the trucking industry, mentioning driving from New Jersey to California transporting Range Rovers.
“He was very chatty,” Erskine said.