CLEARWATER, FL (WFLA) — Clearwater police are investigating after the passenger in an Uber vehicle was allegedly shot during an altercation with the driver on Sunday night. Justin Smith’s job at “Union Burger” on Mandalay Avenue in Clearwater Beach involves cooking all kinds of food for the hungry crowd. But Sunday around 10 p.m., a commotion near the front door caught his attention so he went out to investigate.
“There was a gentleman sitting in his car and there was like blood dripping out of the car so I was concerned what was going on,” Smith said about the shooting. “I came back inside to get a couple of rags to just to make sure he wasn’t bleeding out or anything but it wasn’t nothing like vital.” Police say driver Steven Rayow, 74, of Pinellas County, stopped to pick up a rider in the 400 block of Mandalay Avenue Sunday night, but before the ride began the two got into an argument.
“The driver basically told us that the passenger started choking him. He had his hands around his neck, and in fear of losing consciousness, that’s when the driver of the car pulled out a gun, and in the ensuing struggle, that gun went off,” police spokesman Rob Shaw said. Passenger Marc Memel, 60, was shot in the foot. He was treated at and released from a local hospital. Mermel and Rayow refused to talk about the incident with reporters on Monday. Clearwater Police say they are investigating to find out what started the argument.
Clearwater police said Rayow, has a concealed weapons permit. He is a retired New York City Police officer. In addition to driving for Uber, he runs a charter boat service.
Anthony Miller shot video on his cell phone as he walked nearby with his girlfriend. “It’s a little crazy to think about that because, from what I believe, taxi drivers aren’t allowed to have firearms. So I don’t know if Uber drivers should really have firearms,” Miller said.
One witness thinks the Uber driver may have had no other choice. “If he was choking him then, I guess, what else are you gonna do?” Christa Zammit asked.
A new Uber policy prohibits riders or drivers from having a gun. An Uber spokesman told News Channel 8 Rayow’s access to the Uber platform has been removed. The company is gathering facts and assisting law enforcement, the spokesman said.
Uber is the subject of ongoing debate in Hillsborough County. This incident is a glaring example of why the service needs to be regulated, with drivers getting a level 2 background check, Public Transportation Commission executive director Kyle Cockream said.