National News

Man Charged as ‘Ride-Share Rapist’ in Assaults on 4 Women

His routine earned him the nickname “the ride-share rapist.”

Posted Updated

Melissa Gomez
, New York Times

His routine earned him the nickname “the ride-share rapist.”

He would drive around to bars and nightclubs in downtown San Francisco and pull up to women who were waiting to be picked up, the authorities said. He would pose as their driver, they said, and had a sticker of a ride-share company on his car.

In 2013, the authorities said, he picked up a woman this way — then drove her to another location, where he raped her.

The same thing happened around Valentine’s Day this year. Again he picked a woman up, posing as her driver, took her to another location and assaulted her. Two similar cases followed, and by the time the authorities said he assaulted a fourth woman in June, they had already come up with the sobriquet for the rapist.

Now, five years after the first assault, the authorities have arrested and charged Orlando Vilchez Lazo, 37, of San Mateo County, California, in the four cases. He faces multiple counts of rape, kidnapping, sexual penetration by a foreign object and battery.

Vilchez Lazo was being held in the San Francisco County Jail with bail set at $4.23 million. It was not immediately clear who is representing him.

Cmdr. Greg McEachern, of the San Francisco Police Department’s investigations bureau, said at a news conference Friday that help from the women who came forward after being assaulted and DNA evidence helped identify Vilchez Lazo as the suspect.

“These assaults were not date rapes, they were not acquaintance rapes,” McEachern said. “These assaults were violent rapes committed by a serial rapist, a sexual deviant predator who was not going to stop until he was caught.”

McEachern paused, apologizing for getting emotional and adding that what happened to the victims was a fear of others in the city.

When the first woman came forward with her story, he said, the authorities were able to collect DNA evidence and add it to a national database, which compiles profiles on known offenders. But there was no match.

So the case sat unsolved. Around Valentine’s Day this year, another woman was assaulted, McEachern said, and DNA evidence collected linked it to the same suspect as that in the first assault.

In May, another woman told a similar story: She was waiting for a ride and got into a car she thought was there to pick her up. Instead, the driver took her to another location where she was sexually assaulted, McEachern said. Again, forensic evidence from a rape kit led them to believe it was the same suspect as the person involved in the two previous attacks.

A fourth woman came forward in June, he said, and investigators confirmed it was the same suspect through forensic evidence. A task force created this year by the San Francisco police also worked with ride-sharing companies to try and find the suspect.

On July 7, investigators identified a man whose behavior and M.O. matched the description of the suspect in the four assaults, McEachern said. During a traffic stop, they obtained his DNA and compared it with evidence from the June assault. It was a match. (The police did not say specifically how they obtained the suspect’s DNA.)

“We knew that we had the same suspect for all four rapes,” he said.

McEachern said that investigators believed there may be other victims who were assaulted by the suspect.

“It’s very hard to believe that he wasn’t committing sexual assaults somewhere else,” he said.

In a statement, the ride-sharing company Lyft confirmed Monday that Vilchez Lazo had driven for the company. It said that he was immediately deactivated when the company became aware of the allegations, though it did not specify when that was. The company said it did not believe the attacks occurred while the suspect was on its platform.

It is unclear how the women were targeted.

In the past, drivers for well-known ride-sharing companies have been accused of assaulting passengers. In 2015, an Uber driver in India was convicted of raping a woman who also sued Uber, alleging that the company mishandled her medical records.

Copyright 2023 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.