Lyft driver accused of sexually assaulting rider

Angel Interial, 36, faces a sexual assault charge (Williamson County Jail Photo)
Angel Interial, 36, faces a sexual assault charge (Williamson County Jail Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Lyft driver is accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman he gave a ride home in 2015.

The victim came forward to police in July 2015, saying the assault happened after she spent the night out drinking with friends.

A friend requested a Lyft and walked her to the car around 11 p.m., according to an arrest warrant. The driver, who police identified as 36-year-old Angel Interial, gave her a ride from downtown Austin.

The victim told police that before she took the ride she was “in and out” and didn’t remember everything that happened, according to the affidavit. She does remember waking up in the car to a sharp pain on her breast.

“[The victim] opened her eyes and saw Angel with his head in her chest,” the arrest warrant stated. She passed out again and woke up the next morning in her bed. She couldn’t find her keys or one of her earrings, and she felt sore and had bruises on her body.

She walked outside and found her keys inside her front door, with the earring hanging from them. “[The victim] felt as if the Lyft driver, Angel, had put her earring on the key ring and put her keys in the door because she was too intoxicated to do so,” the arrest warrant stated.

While the alleged sexual assault happened in the summer of 2015, investigators only recently received notification that the DNA testing was complete on Oct. 11, 2017.  According to the affidavit, the DNA results were a match with Interial.

Interial faces a second-degree felony sexual assault charge. He was booked into custody at the Williamson County Jail Monday. His bond is set at $60,000.

A spokesperson for Lyft says the driver was permanently deactivated from its platform when they were notified of the allegations in 2015. “We have absolutely no tolerance for this type of behavior on the Lyft platform — the safety of our community is our top priority,” said the spokesperson in a statement.

In November 2015, KXAN investigated sexual assault cases involving Uber and Lyft drivers. At the time, the Austin Police Department said they had seven sexual assault claims.

“We know some survivors have been waiting for more than five years, more than 8 years, sometimes even longer,” said Aja Gair, the Sr. Director of Community Advocacy at the SAFE Alliance. SAFE Alliance has a program that collects forensic evidence from sexual assault victims and hands it over to APD.

“We are seeing cases turn around much, much faster than that, so we’re pleased to know that survivors are getting answers faster,” said Gair.

Chief of Police Brian Manley says more detectives in the sex assault unit and contracting the work to other labs have helped them catch up.

“We have made a lot of fixes to what was a system that was taking far too long to address the needs,” said Chief Manley.

Police tell us this case was part of a backlog that developed when the department shut down its DNA lab last year. Since then testing has been outsourced to the state and three other labs. They’ve processed almost 3,000 sexual assault kits since the shut down. More than a thousand are still waiting to be processed. Chief Manley says they’re now at a 60-day turnaround on new cases. And they are working to clear the entire backlog by next summer.

There’s always risk, climbing into a car with a stranger. But a Central Texas lawmaker, Celia Israel, who serves on the state’s Transportation Committee says there should be regulations to prevent drivers who are under investigation from getting back behind the wheel.

“Is there relief there for me to make sure that if something was not quite right, that it won’t happen to somebody else?”

That answer is up in the air — perhaps because of the lack of employees specifically dedicated to monitoring rideshares with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

“In hearing, we were going to have 2 and a half employees on this big elephant,” Israel said.

The elephant is House Bill 100  — it became law in May — requiring Transportation Network Companies to conduct background checks, but not fingerprinting.

“I’m always concerned that we have high expectations without there being any accountability,” Israel said.

The bigger problem may be with communication. If that stranger you got in the car with is under investigation, shouldn’t there be somebody who’s warning other companies?

“It involves regulation, it involves communication, it involves more than 2 and a half employees I’ll tell you that,” she said.

Right now, it doesn’t appear that drivers accused of sexual assault have been addressed in the law. A change Israel plans to push for in two years.

“The crime still happens and those of us who become accustomed to using this technology need to be reassured that someones watching,” she said.

This is the second time a passenger accused a ride share driver of sexual assault this week.

Forty-year-old Osmani Limonta-Diaz is in the Travis County Jail. The RideAustin driver is accused of sexually assaulting a woman when he took her home over the summer. RideAustin says the driver was immediately removed from their platform when they learned about the allegations against him. The company says Limonta-Diaz passed fingerprint and Social Security-based background checks when he was hired.

KXAN checked and neither Limonta-Diaz or Interial had criminal records before their passengers accused them of sexual assault. Interial also worked part-time for the city of Cedar Park, which placed him on administrative leave — without pay — upon learning of the arrest.

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, the SAFE Alliance has resources available. SAFE’s 24-hour hotline is 512-267-SAFE (7233).

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