Passenger held Lyft driver against her will, troopers say

Troopers: Passenger had gun, duct tape

By Vanessa Araiza - Reporter, Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. - A Lyft driver was rescued from a passenger who was forcing her to drive to locations against her will when she pulled into a Florida Highway Patrol station on Semoran Boulevard, troopers said.

"He kept saying, go to this address, go to this address, and they seemed to be dark places. No particular address," Kim Montes, public information officer with the FHP, said.

"I was scared. I was nervous," the victim said. "I was keeping my phone on to call 911."

Christopher Tyree Epperson, 20, told the driver she had to take him to "several dark locations," including one on Yucatan Drive, if she "ever wanted to see her children again," according to a news release. Troopers said Epperson also tried to take the victim's cellphone.

The victim said she picked up Epperson around 7 a.m. and immediately the ride took a weird turn.

"When I'm running about 5 minutes, he changed the address," the victim said. "He changed the address twice."

"He just kept trying to intimidate her and, you know, she took it as threats, and that's why she said that she kept driving around,” Montes said. “She was trying to figure out what she wanted to do.”

"He asked by about my family," she said. "He asked me if you have children. I said, 'Yes, I have children. He said, 'Maybe you'll see your children no more.'"

The Lyft driver noticed the trooper station and pulled in, Montes said.

She was able to get out and wave a trooper down for help. 

Epperson was asked to get out of the SUV and questioned by the trooper. 

Shortly after, two more troopers approached the situation. 

"That's when one of the troopers noticed bulges in one of his pockets and one of them appeared to be a weapon,” Montes said. “So, when they asked him what was in his pockets he tried to run away.”

After catching him, the troopers found a loaded 9 mm handgun, duct tape and a glove in his pocket.

Epperson told authorities the gun is not his. 

Investigators are working to determine if that's true. 

Epperson, who has a Delaware driver’s license, has been charged with false imprisonment and carrying a concealed firearm.

Authorities do not know how long he has been in the area. 

Montes said he has no criminal background. 

Troopers are asking anyone who may have been in a similar situation with the suspect to call 407-737-2213.

"We don't know what his intentions are and for anybody who is a share rider operator, they need to have a plan in place in case this type of situation occurs,” Montes said. “What are you going to do, where are you going to go, are you going to call 911?”

Lyft issued a statement after learning of the arrest.

"The safety of our community members is always our top priority and we’ve been in close touch with Emilia. We are so glad she is doing OK after this terrible ordeal and commend her bravery. We have removed the passenger’s access to the platform and are available to support the authorities."

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