Uber driver saves 16-year-old girl from sex trafficking


For Uber driver Keith Avila, Monday’s shift in Sacramento, California started out like any other — but ended with him helping save a 16-year-old girl from child sex trafficking.

Avila said he picked up two women and the teen and drove them to a Holiday Inn in nearby Elk Grove, California. While in the car, the women openly talked about delivering the girl to a “John” and getting money from him.

Once Avila dropped them off at the hotel, he called the police.

“The worst thing I thought would happen when driving Uber is that I would be getting drunk passengers and I would have to handle them,” Avila, 34, who is also a quinceañera photographer, told NBC Latino. “All my life, I thought about people throwing up in the car as the worst scenario.”

Avila started streaming to Facebook LIVE once the police arrived. His reaction to breaking up a child sex trafficking ring had been viewed more than 119,000 times as of Thursday afternoon.

Elk Grove public information officer Chris Trim told NBC Latino that police immediately detained Destiny Pettway, 25, and Maria Westley, 31, when they arrived at the scene. Police found the teen trafficking victim with Disney Vang, 20, in a hotel room.

Pettaway and Westley were arrested and charged with pimping and pandering, and their bail was set to $500,000. Vang was arrested on suspicions of sexual activity with a minor, and has since been released.

The victim was discovered to be a runaway, and she was sent to stay in an “alternative housing situation” until her parents or guardians could be located, police said.

Avila, a first-generation Mexican-American, is a married father of of a 6-year-old son. By chance, he had photographed a quinceañera at the same hotel earlier in the year.

Avila’s wife, Guadalupe, a 27-year-old Mexican immigrant, said the fact that the victim was a missing person made her realize this could happen to anyone, even their son.

“[We] just want to take care of our son and educate him on the subject and to be aware of everyone around us because this kind of thing can happen to boys, not only girls,” she told NBC Latino.

A member of the Uber Safety Team reached out to Avila over the phone to congratulate him for his work, and to inform him that all three people involved in the incident have been permanently banned from Uber. In an email, an Uber representative reiterated their admiration for his quick thinking and thanked him again.

“Maintaining the platform as a safe and comfortable place for both riders and driver partners is very important to us, and any incident that disrupts that experience for either party is one we take very seriously,” the email read.

“We appreciate your professionalism in a difficult situation,” the message added.

NBCNews.com


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