Uber Driver Charged With Vehicular Manslaughter in 6-Year-Old Girl’s Death

NBC Bay Area

An Uber driver accused of striking and killing a 6-year-old girl while driving in San Francisco on New Year's Eve has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

Syed Muzzafar, 57, of Union City, was booked into jail on the charge but has since been released on $50,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned at the Hall of Justice on Wednesday morning, district attorney's office spokesman Alex Bastian said.

Muzzafar allegedly fatally struck Sofia Liu as she walked with her mother and brother in a crosswalk at Polk and Ellis streets at about 8 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2013, police said. Sofia's family members were injured in the collision but survived.

The case prompted criticism of Uber and other transportation network companies operating in the city and led to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in January by Sofia's family.

On Tuesday, her family issued a statement through their attorney, Chris Dolan. 

“The last thing I saw before the Uber driver (allegedly) killed my little girl, and forever changed my life, was him looking down at his phone," her mother, Huan Kuang wrote in part. "The driver is a man who was working to feed his family and he did wrong but Uber is the one who makes the drivers look at their phones as part of the way they do business.  Uber is just as responsible as Muzaffar but they say they are not. This is wrong.  That is why we are suing Uber to get them to be held responsible and to change the way they do business.”

The suit filed by Dolan seeks damages from both Uber and Muzzafar and alleges he was viewing or interacting with his smartphone app for the company when the collision occurred. Dolan said that is a common practice for the business despite the state's law banning cellphone use while driving without a hands-free device.

Dolan also said on Tuesday, that "the District Attorney’s action sends a very important message to these Uber and Lyft drivers: if you are engaged in distracted driving and cause harm while looking at, or messaging on, the app you will be held to answer to criminal charges and face jail time."

He added: "Given Uber’s defiant stance towards regulation and compliance with the laws, the court system is the only place where accountability can be had and change can be made."

Uber issued a statement following Sofia's death saying that Muzzafar, who has since had his account deactivated with the company, was not responding to a fare at the time of the collision and did not have a passenger in the car.

Muzzafar's attorney Graham Archer said following the filing of the wrongful death lawsuit that his client had picked up a fare for Uber earlier that day and was "distraught about the accident."

Dolan added that Uber and his firm are now in the discovery phase of his civil suit, and he has demanded production of company documents.

NBC Bay Area's  Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.


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