Authorities continue to investigate the January 31 death of a popular 23-year-old gay man, Justin Lavelle of West Hollywood.
Lavelle was riding as a passenger in a Lyft car and apparently had an altercation with the driver before being ejected from the car onto the 110 Freeway where he was hit by multiple cars.
Just after midnight on January 31, California Highway Patrol Southern Division responded to several 911 calls report a man was walking curbside on the southbound 101 at 51st Street, but when officers responded he had been struck and was found face down on the 51st Street off ramp. He was transported to California Hospital Medical Center were he succumbed to his injuries six hours later.
Lavelle, a waiter from Virginia, been riding in the Lyft from his home in West Hollywood to a friend’s home in Long Beach. During the trip, Lavelle allegedly called his friend, Omar, to complain that the driver had threatened to throw him onto the freeway.
Lavelle also called his mother screaming that the driver had pepper-sprayed him.
Lavelle’s mother, speaking to KNBC-Los Angeles, said “Justin was in the car. He was having a panic attack and was arguing with the Lyft driver.” She says he was prone to panic attacks.
His mother travelled to Los Angeles to identify her son and told reporters his body was unrecognizable.
Lyft acknowledged the incident in an sent an email to Lavelle’s friend that reads in part:
“Obviously, the behavior that displayed towards your friend is in no way something we would ever encourage, condone, or defend.”
In a statement sent to the media, Lyft spokesman Scott Coriell says the company is “deeply saddened by this incident and our thoughts are with those impacted by this loss. We have been in daily contact with this individual’s family to offer our support and assistance. Given the serious nature of these allegations, we immediately deactivated the driver’s account. We have proactively reached out to law enforcement and stand ready to assist in their investigation.”
The Lyft driver, Tariq Rasheed of Hawthorne, California, admitted to ejecting Lavelle into freeway traffic, telling KNBC Lavelle was “holding my steering wheel. I couldn’t even move an inch. I would have died. I didn’t have no choice left. I have to save my life. I did what I had to save my life.”
Rasheed has been driving ride-shares for over two years. He claims Justin was drunk and demanded he drive faster then allegedly overtook the steering wheel twice. He also claims he did not pepper-spray the passenger and that he simply pulled over to leave him on the curb side of the freeway.
Uber also suspended him.
Investigators say they are still gathering evidence but have not yet interviewed or arrested the driver.
As of Friday, Feb. 9, the driver has not been arrested.