A California Uber driver has been credited with rescuing a 16-year-old girl from a sex trafficking ring after he realized that the girl seemed younger than she was and oddly dressed for her age as she rode with two other women.
Keith Avila had been driving with Uber for barely a month when he picked up three women and immediately realized something was wrong.
Avila earned less than $8 from an Uber ride Monday, but saved one young woman from being forced into prostitution. He picked up three women in Elk Grove, California, and noticed that one of the passengers appeared at be around 12 years old but dressed oddly for her age.
"She had a really short skirt," Avila told KCRA. "So, you could see all her legs, and it struck me as odd because she was so young and she was dressing like that."
But it wasn't until he decided to eavesdrop on what the other two women were telling her that he figured out what was going on.
Avila noticed that the young girl appeared to be about 12, and said she was dressed very provocatively.
"I saw her legs are really long and she was a really young girl," he said.
"You need to get your priorities straight. We need to make this money. We need to make this money," he told KOVR as he recalled the two women's conversation.
"First thing you want to do is ask: Do you have any weapons? When you're hugging him, just ask, do you have any weapons?" Avila claims the woman told the girl. "Pat him down while you're hugging him. Get the donation, first. Before you start touching him, going in there, get the donation first."
Avila then dropped the three females off at a Holiday Inn Express in Elk Grove. He made a call to police.
"Honestly, I didn't think about it," Avila said. "They said what they said, and it's one of those things that you just do. I can't just drive away. I'm mean, of course not. That's not even an option."
Elk Grove public information officer Chris Trim said that police detained Destiny Pettway, 25, and Maria Westley, 31. They then discovered the teen, who was being trafficked, in a hotel room with 20-year-old Disney Vang.
Trim praised Avila's actions, "He could've said nothing. Went on his way, collected his fare. And then that 16-year-old victim could've been victimized again by who knows how many different people over the next couple of days, weeks, months."
Both Pettway and Westley were arrested and their bail was set at $500,000. Vang was released after being arrested on suspicions of sexual activity with a minor.
Avila was also thanked by Uber.
A member of the Uber Safety Team reached out to Avila over the phone to congratulate him for his work, and to inform him that all three people involved in the incident have been permanently banned from Uber. In an email, an Uber representative reiterated their admiration for his quick thinking and thanked him again.
"Maintaining the platform as a safe and comfortable place for both riders and driver partners is very important to us, and any incident that disrupts that experience for either party is one we take very seriously," the email read.
"We appreciate your professionalism in a difficult situation," the message added.
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