Fake Uber driver arrested with new charges, students and drivers react

Lauren Pullen, Contributing Writer

Imagine you’ve gone out one night and you’ve had too much to drink. You can’t remember if you’ve called an Uber or not, but you get into the car anyway.  

This is what happened to the victims in the Tommy Wayne Beard case. 

In March, an unaware college student, 22, got into a car driven by Beard, a Northport resident, and moments later the police did a routine stop and found the unconscious student in the back of Beard’s vehicle. He was found seven miles in the wrong direction from her home, according to WVUA 23 News.

Beard, 62, posed as an Uber driver and was charged on June 21 with first and second degree kidnapping and impersonating a Transportation Network Company driver. Two of his three victims were students at the University of Alabama. 

This is far from the first Uber-related crime that has occurred since the business was founded 10 years ago. In 2018, a CNN investigation found that at least 103 Uber drivers have been accused of committing sexual assault or abuse.  

In 2014 there was a forced exit of Uber in Tuscaloosa after the Tuscaloosa Police Department arrested an Uber driver for operating a vehicle under a suspended license and while in the possession of alcohol and marijuana. But Uber was brought back in 2016 by SGA members who lobbied for ride-share service’s return around campus. 

Uber has been on campus since then, but this recent incident has brought up many concerns for both students and drivers.

“I have never used an Uber alone and this is just proof why you never should,” said Madie Weir, a UA student. “It shows how careful you have to be, alone or not.” 

Jan Owens, a former driver who has taken a pause from Uber since May, has some tips to keep passengers safe:

  • Make sure to ask the driver for your name to make sure you know who they are picking up
  • Check the license plate number 
  • Check the make and model of the car to make sure it matches the description on the Uber app

“The biggest tip I could give, though, is don’t be so inebriated that you can’t recognize where you are,” Owens said. “I have driven a lot of college students and this has concerned me. Particularly for young women, don’t get in an Uber alone after a night out.”

Shortly after Beard’s initial arrest in March, the University sent out an email letting students know what happened but also providing tips for people who choose to use ride-sharing services. 

“The SGA has recently been partnering with Lyft, and has done a large ride-share discount in October to November,” said Jackson Fuentes, the press secretary for the University’s Student Government Association. “The administration has announced tips for ride sharing safety during the initial incident in March and will make sure to reinforce these tips when students come back to school.”

But for some, a list of tips isn’t enough. Sara Perkins, a senior majoring in public relations, said she doesn’t see the University taking any deliberate action toward ride-sharing safety.

“They’ll tell everyone in an email to be careful and to consider ‘safety steps’ like not going alone, checking the facts, not being ‘too drunk,’ etc.,” Perkins said. “They’ll advise to take advantage of the University’s 348-Rides, but 348-Rides don’t go very far, and those of us that don’t live right on campus are pretty much left to fend for ourselves.”