What has become of missing Charlotte Uber driver Marlo Johnis Medina-Chevez?
It’s a question his family, the police and many other Charlotteans are asking as detectives continue to interrogate the two men who were arrested Monday night, using his credit card and driving his car.
They were caught in Maryland.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said at a news conference Tuesday that the fate of Medina-Chevez, 44, remains a mystery, though they believe he’s in “grave danger.”
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Medina-Chevez left his Charlotte home Saturday night to pick up a passenger and never returned. The case is being investigated as a homicide, though police have not said they believe he’s dead.
Arrested in connection with the case are Diontray Divan Adams, 24, and James Aaron Stevens, 20, but the two are not charged with homicide. Instead, detectives have charged Adams with financial credit card fraud and outstanding Maryland warrants, and Stevens has been charged with possession of a stolen vehicle.
It was not immediately clear where the two men live.
The duo were arrested in Maryland, after police there began investigating a fraudulent use of Medina-Chavez’s credit card. At 11:50 p.m. Monday, CMPD detectives were notified that Maryland State Police received a license plate reader hit on Medina-Chevez’s 2008 Nissan Pathfinder. It had been spotted near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The Maryland Transportation Authority Police then stopped the Pathfinder and detained the four occupants. Adams and Stevens were taken to the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Department in Annapolis, where they were being interviewed by CMPD homicide detectives. The other occupants were released and not charged.
Court records show James Stevens lived in Fayetteville until 2014, then moved to Mecklenburg County. He has been charged twice with offenses, including an October 2016 case of communicating threats in Mecklenburg County. The outcome was not clear in court records. Court records show Diontray Adams was a Charlotte resident when he was arrested in 2015 for an offense in Rowan County. Details of that offense are not included in court records.
Medina-Chevez’ family spoke at a Tuesday CMPD news conference, and said they have not given up hope. In fact, they were worried that he might be wandering around disoriented, which would explain why no one has heard from him.
His daughter, Debra Medina, said finding the SUV put them a step closer to finding her father. “A car gives us hope, even if it’s just a car," she said.
In an interview with the Spanish language newspaper Hola Noticias, Elisa Urbina said her husband began working for Uber in December to raise money for a rare family vacation. It was a job he fit around his full-time work at a company making windows and doors, she told the newspaper.
On Saturday evening, he left their house about 9:45 p.m. to pick up a passenger, expecting to be gone only an hour or two.
“I told him not to go to work, but he insisted,” his wife told Hola Noticias. “He told me he would only go to work for a couple of hours. He promised. He just left to pick up a passenger and, as he had not worked in the last few days, he did not want to lose his place.
“Now I do not know what to do! I miss him so much!”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police were initially handling it as a missing persons case, but it became a homicide investigation Monday afternoon. Police said the switch was in part because that unit has more resources.
Medina-Chevez, a devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, was last seen in the Steele Creek area of south Charlotte. Police say they are working with Uber, but it was unclear if they knew who Medina-Chevez was picking up Saturday night.
His wife told Hola Noticias that they had been a couple since middle school, and married for more than 20 years. The two had a pledge, she said, that if one ever got lost, the other would not stop looking.
“And that’s what I’ll do,” she told Hola Noticias. “I feel like I’m not doing enough. Maybe he’s had an accident and is fighting for his life. Last night I had to leave the search because it started to rain very hard and it darkened. Today, together with some relatives we are going to go out and look for him. I will not abandon it.”
One Charlotte Uber driver said the case has made him think about his own safety.
“I’ve had a couple of situations where I don’t know if ‘scary’ is the right word but ‘sketchy’ might be,” said Adam Sharkey, 25, who’s driven for Uber and competitor Lyft for three months. Weekend driving pays for his car and insurance.
Two drunks headed to a strip club this past weekend passed out in his back seat, then got belligerent when Sharkey tried to get them out of the car. Another passenger started yelling accusations when Sharkey, blocked by traffic, took an alternate route.
“I’ve thought about getting a knife in the name of personal defense to keep in my pocket, and seeing that (Medina-Chevez) story has made me say, maybe I’ll pick up that knife this week,” Sharkey said. “It does seem pretty unusual, but everything is unusual until it happens.”
Uber said it has been working with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police investigation of the Medina-Chevez case but would not discuss specific information.
Uber touts the measures the ride-hailing app takes to keep drivers safe.
Among them: no anonymous passengers. Riders have to create an account and provide their name, email address and home phone number before they can request a ride.
Uber also logs GPS data, so it knows who drivers are transporting and where they’re going, and both drivers and passengers can rate each other. Drivers can end rides at any time.
“Our technology makes it possible to focus on the safety of drivers and passengers,” a spokeswoman said. Uber recently posted safety tips for drivers, developed with feedback from drivers and law enforcement.
The online forum UberPeople.net is full of conversations among Charlotte rideshare drivers on company practices, fares and passengers. Relatively few threads discuss safety.
In April, before Medina-Chevez went missing, a driver on the site compared Charlotte to “Chiraq,” a play on the war-torn Middle East, and alluded to murders, stolen guns and “doped up heartless teens and young adults.”
“I feel being a Uber driver is a very vulnerable job to have right now,” he wrote.
Responded a cab driver: “No, you are absolutely correct to be scared as hell. THIS cab driver got a gun pulled on him a month ago … in broad daylight over a fare discrepancy.
“If (you) can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
A third writer added: “There are risks in any job. Very few people get killed or robbed doing this job, at least not that I have heard. However, by all means stop driving if it scares you. I could use the extra passengers and surge fares.”