By Vivian Ho 9/30/14
Roberto Chicas thought his night was ending in the way it now does for countless others in San Francisco: He and his two friends called for an Uber.
The 35-year-old had finished a bartending shift in the early morning hours of Sept. 23 at the Cavalier in the South of Market and, after grabbing drinks at a nearby bar, he planned to return home to the Lower Haight.
But instead, his attorney said Tuesday, he and his friends got in the car of Patrick Karajah, a driver for the basic UberX service. And Chicas’ night ended with him bleeding and unconscious on a sidewalk in Bernal Heights after Karajah allegedly struck him in the head with a hammer.
A week after the attack, Chicas and his doctors are unsure if he’ll see out of his left eye again, said his attorney, Harry Stern. He has facial reconstructive surgeries ahead of him, as well as a long recovery period.
Karajah, a 26-year-old Pacifica resident, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury, and has pleaded not guilty. Stern, whose firm is conducting a separate investigation, said the attack raises questions about the growing ride services industry.
Though Karajah has no criminal record, Stern said it was “outrageous” that Uber hired someone who Chicas and his friends described as behaving erracticly.
“In this instance, it seems like this was somebody with a hair trigger who fell through the cracks, someone who is unfit to be dealing with the public,” Stern said. “The idea that this guy is carrying around a claw hammer readily accessible tells you he’s ready for trouble.”
Stern said the trouble began when Karajah took the freeway rather than city streets to get to Chicas’ home. When the passengers asked the driver why he was taking that route, he became agitated, stopping twice to try to force them out of the car, Stern said.
“The female passenger really tried to placate the driver and calm everybody down, but the driver just got more and more agitated and finally snapped,” Stern said.
He said Karajah pulled over in front of a public housing complex at Ellsworth Street and Alemany Boulevard, and told the three friends to get out.
“For reasons that are unknown at this point, he then snapped and smashed Roberto on the side of the head with a claw hammer,” Stern said.
Karajah’s attorney did not return calls seeking comment.
After the alleged attack, Uber released a statement saying safety was its top priority and that the company was “treating the matter with the utmost urgency and care. It is also our policy to immediately suspend a driver’s account following any serious allegations, which we have done. We stand ready to assist authorities in any investigation.”