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Man accused of assaulting women while driving for Uber, Lyft

Posted 7:20 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 8:49 p.m. Wednesday

— Authorities in San Diego County arrested a former driver for Uber and Lyft on suspicion of sexually assaulting several women while he worked for the ride-hailing services, and investigators said Wednesday that there are likely more victims.

The investigation began when an 18-year-old student said she was assaulted after requesting an Uber car at Palomar College on Friday, Escondido Police Lt. Justin Murphy said at a press conference. The woman told police the driver picked her up at the school in a 2014 Chrysler minivan, immediately turned off the Uber app and then drove her to another location where he attacked her, Murphy said. He then drove her to her home. The woman was texting friends saying she felt uncomfortable after getting in the van, before the assault, police said.

Later that day police arrested Jeremy Vague, 37, a former college basketball player who is 7 feet tall, at his home in San Marcos near the college, Murphy said. He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday on multiple sexual assault charges.

A phone listing for Vague could not be found. It wasn't immediately known if he has an attorney.

In the course of the investigation, detectives discovered additional suspected victims.

They include two 19-year-old women in Escondido. Vague had given one of them a Lyft ride on Sept. 7, and the other was waiting at the destination, Murphy said. Vague asked to take a picture with the two of them and as they posed he touched them inappropriately, Murphy said.

On Sept. 6 another student, who had not requested a ride, called Palomar College police and said a driver tried to lure her into his minivan, but she refused.

Murphy asked any additional victims to contact police.

"We're asking you to find the courage to come forward so we can hold Vague accountable for his actions," he said.

Both ridesharing companies are cooperating with authorities.

Lyft said in a statement that the company has "a strict zero-tolerance policy for any type of violent behavior, abuse or harassment and have permanently deactivated the driver's access to the platform. Drivers on the Lyft platform undergo a thorough criminal background check across local, state and federal databases that go back in time to the maximum extent allowable by law."

A statement from Uber said, "There is no excuse for the violent acts described and reported to police. We are working with law enforcement officials to fully support their investigation, and the driver has been banned from accessing the Uber app."

Murphy said Vague is married and had worked for Lyft for nine months and Uber for three months. He had previously worked as a coach for a high school girls' basketball team.

Vague played basketball for at least one season for Utah State University in 2000 and 2001, according to the team's website.

He had a criminal record in Utah, Murphy said, but it was not for a sexual crime.

A bill requiring stricter background checks for ride-hailing companies has passed the California Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature.

It would prohibit the companies from hiring drivers who are registered sex offenders, have been convicted of violent felonies or have a driving under the influence conviction in the past seven years.

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This story has been corrected to show that the suspected victim of sexual battery was a friend awaiting the 19-year-old victim on Sept. 7, not the 18-year-old victim on Sept. 16.

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