Investigation finds no physical or sexual assault before death of Lalamove rider

Society & Culture

The death of a female passenger of a moving van on-demand service continues to spark debate about the responsibilities of online platforms and the ubiquity of violence against women.

Dong Fengkui / Reuters

A police investigation into the death of a female passenger who used vehicle-hailing app Lalamove has determined that despite minor quarrels she had with the driver, no physical violence was inflicted upon her before she leaped out of the moving van. She later died of her injuries in a hospital.  

A statement (in Chinese) released today by the public security bureau of Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province, where the incident occured, offers a reconstruction of the fatal ride, which the police say is based on a variety of methods to reconstruct what happened, including an on-the-spot investigation looking for physical evidence, a forensic examination, and asking experts to carry out a psychological analysis of the driver.

The 23-year-old woman, surnamed Chē 车, booked the Lalamove van using its app at around 3 p.m. on February 6 to move her property from one apartment to another. When he arrived at the woman’s residence at 8:39 p.m., the driver, surnamed Zhōu 周, offered to provide moving assistance that would entail additional charges. The woman declined and proceeded to take care of loading herself. 

Che spent almost 40 minutes getting her belongings loaded onto the van, during which period the driver told her multiple times that extra waiting times might cause additional fees. Then the vehicle hit the road at around 9:14 p.m. During the ride, the driver again asked Che if she wanted help with unloading at her destination, to which she firmly stated “No.” 

Seeing no chance of squeezing any extra money out of Che’s ride, the driver accepted another ride while traveling and decided to take shortcuts not shown on the app’s recommended route to save time. Che voiced her displeasure and concerns several times, but Zhou ignored her complaints. About 15 minutes into the ride, Zhou exited the van through the window of its front passenger seat, likely in fear of her safety.

The driver called an ambulance immediately after Che hit the ground. The woman was rushed to a hospital but four days later, she was pronounced dead from serious brain damage. 

While a medical examination of Che’s body showed no signs of struggle nor of physical or sexual assault, the driver was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter as the investigation revealed that when Che left her seat and tried to make the leap, Zhou didn’t tell her to stop or slow down the vehicle. 

When the news about Che’s death first came out last week, speculation ran wild on the Chinese internet as to why the driver deviated from the designated route and why Che took what they saw as an extreme action to get herself out of the situation. Many observers pointed to past ride-hailing incidents involving female passengers, such as two high-profile murders of women in 2018, who were raped and killed by male drivers while using Didi Chuxing. 

Much of the anger was directed at Lalamove, which has reportedly downplayed or ignored safety concerns raised by its customers going back nearly as far as its launch in 2013. In the wake of Che’s death, the Hong Kong–based startup apologized and promised to take steps to improve rider safety, such as allowing passengers to contact the police directly from its app and making in-trip audio recording compulsory on its platform.

While the investigation report has put most rumors regarding the incident to bed, Chinese internet users continued to debate the culpability of the driver and of the company. On Weibo, a number of commenters attributed the accident to a misunderstanding in communication, accusing (in Chinese) Che of being “hysterical” and “overreacting” when facing perceived threats. This point of view was countered by many others, who called out people on the other side of the argument for victim-blaming and underestimating how many protective strategies women have to employ to steer clear of violent men day in and day out.