Taxi drivers across the world put their lives at risk on a daily basis as they never know who their next fare may or may not be. The same applies to Uber drivers, who work long shifts to make a living by driving people across town, often during the early hours of the morning.
When one man set out for his shift, purposely working on Memorial Day to make some extra cash, the last person he was expecting to pick up was a 16-year-old girl who was armed a knife and a machete. She was certainly a troubled teen, but no one could have predicted this.
The Uber app offers a driving service whereby both the driver and passenger are sent up-to-date information on their phone to ensure they make their connection on time and safely. The app is secure and efficient and sees to it that passengers are picked up on time by their designated driver and dropped at their destination in one piece. For the most part, the Uber app works seamlessly and without issue.
Eliza Wasni, 16, had been acting suspiciously at Walmart in the early hours that Tuesday morning. Staff were suspicious when she left the store without making a purchase, but that was because she had shoplifted. The bigger problem was that she hadn’t stolen candy as most teens would — Wasni stole a knife and a large machete.
For reasons known only to her, Wasni opened her phone and ordered an Uber car to pick her up. But what happened next was a shock for the whole community as the teen decided to use the items she’d stolen from Walmart on her innocent driver Grant Nelson in an unprovoked attack. Assistant State’s Attorney Michelle Cunningham explained …
“Only two minutes or so after picking up the defendant, she begins to hack at him and stab him from the back of the seat,” explained Cunningham. But having been repeatedly slashed and stabbed from the back seat as he drove, Nelson managed to stop the car, running to the nearest condo building for help as he bled out. One resident, Jay Markicic, heard the commotion going on.
Markicic heard Nelson banging on doors and screaming: “Help me! God help me, please! I’m gonna die!” At that point, Wasni tried to drive off in Nelson’s car but hit a median and fled on foot. When police found her within the hour, she was hiding but still holding the knife and machete.
Wasni was clearly in a disturbed state of mind when police found her. She displayed a blatant disrespect for authority when the cops asked her nicely to put the weapons down. When she refused, acting in a threatening manner by hollering at them, they had no choice but to subdue her with a taser gun.
A neighbor of the Wasni family, Patrick Sullivan, said that the community was completely shocked by the incident. Sullivan said he was “Stunned. Beyond belief. This is a good neighborhood.” But even though Nelson had been rushed to the nearby St. Francis Hospital, he died from his injuries a short time later.
The Nelson family are understandably shocked by the murder which was unprovoked and senseless. Nelson’s younger sister Alexandra expressed the family’s grief in a statement: “The loss of intelligence and conversation and nuance and thoughtfulness that he brought into all of our lives is going to be felt, and it will reverberate with us throughout the coming weeks and months and years, and it is not a hole that can be easily filled,” she said.
First in 12 Years
Police confirmed that this was the first homicide to take place in Lincolnwood, Illinois, since 2006, which is an encouraging fact in itself, albeit little consolation for the Nelson family. Twelve years ago, a man named James McDurmon killed his brother during a domestic dispute. McDurmon was found guilty and sentenced to 60 years behind bars for the murder.
Many of Nelson’s friends paid tribute to him, saying he was a genuine person and always “quick to laugh.” One friend, Mike, told reporters “It’s overwhelming, really. It’s very sad. Heartbreaking.” Mike worked with Nelson and also told reporters that his friend always had reservations about late-night driving and the dangers it posed.
Mike recalled an incident Nelson told him about: “I remember him mentioning that he once had to stop and get gas in a really sketchy neighborhood. He might not have really thought anything of it.” And Mike was also the last person to message Nelson before he was killed.
Just before 3 a.m. on Memorial Day, Nelson sent a message to Mike on Facebook, apologizing for missing his message: “Sorry, I was Ubering,” he wrote. That was Nelson’s final message.
According to another friend, Colleen, who worked with Nelson years ago, he was a super nice guy. “It’s pretty heartbreaking to hear that,” she said. “That guy is super nice. One of the nicest guys you’ll know. Quiet, shy, but he wouldn’t do anything to anybody.”
According to Colleen, Nelson was anything but the confrontational type. “Grant’s the type of person that would walk away from an altercation. He would never stay around. He would let something go and walk away,” she said. “He was always happy, just always a nice person. He really didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
These kinds of things are bad publicity for Uber, who already find themselves in legal battles across the board. A spokesperson for Uber released a statement about the murder of one of their drivers. “We are heartbroken by the loss of one of our partners, Grant Nelson. Our deepest sympathies and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this incredibly difficult time,” Uber said.
Lyft is a car service much like Uber, but with some small differences. The company also felt the need to release a statement about Nelson, who also drove for them. “We’re horrified by these reports and our thoughts are with those impacted. This type of violence has no place in our society. Our trust and safety team is looking into these reports, and we stand ready to assist law enforcement in their investigation. While the individual identified by police has driven for Lyft, there was no ride at the time of the incident.”
Having been found guilty of first-degree murder and tried as an adult, it became clear that Wasni had serious anger issues. A judge in court recently admonished Wasni regarding her behavior so far in jail. She has already had at least 23 disciplinary infractions in just one month. And that includes physically attacking prison guards.
Having violently attacked prison guards while in custody in a juvenile detention center, Judge Lauren Gottainer Edidin warned Wasni that she could face additional charges. Many feel that this young girl is so troubled that she needs professional mental help. The judge told Wasni that complying with the rules in prison “may make your situation better.”
Nelson was loved by many people from different walks of life. In paying tribute to him, a lifelong friend named Geoff said, “Grant encapsulated what we seek in a lifelong friend. He was a kind, empathetic and extremely funny human being who could always be counted on to lift your spirits when life had you down.”
Nelson’s family released an official statement to the press: “To Uber, Lyft and taxicab drivers, who take us all where we need to go: We pray that you will remain safe and free from harm, and hope that if anything can be done to increase your safety, it will be done.”