Michigan Uber driver admits to deadly shooting spree-media reports
KALAMAZOO, Mich., Feb 22 (Reuters) - A man who worked as an Uber driver has admitted to the fatal weekend shootings of six people in Kalamazoo, Michigan, media reports said on Monday as police searched for a motive in a case raising questions about how the car service vets its drivers.
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Jason Dalton, 45, was denied bail as he made his first court appearance on 16 charges including six of murder that can bring life in prison.
Local broadcaster Fox 17 and others cited county prosecutor Jeffrey Getting as saying Dalton waived his right to self-incrimination and admitted to his involvement in the crimes. Getting's office would not immediately confirm the reports.
Dalton appeared via a video link and was seen on a monitor at the Kalamazoo County court wearing glasses and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit as two guards flanked him.
When asked if he had anything to say, Dalton, who remained emotionless through the proceedings, said he preferred to "remain silent."
The judge denied bail and set March 3 for the next hearing.
Prosecutors alleged Dalton randomly shot multiple times at people during a five-hour period on Saturday at an apartment complex, a car dealership and a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Kalamazoo, about 150 miles (240 km) west of Detroit.
Police were investigating reports Dalton also may have driven customers of the Uber car-hailing service the night of the rampage. Two people were wounded in the shooting, including a teenage girl who was initially thought to have died.
"The Kalamazoo community is reeling from these senseless acts of violence that took so many innocent lives from us," said Getting, the county's prosecuting attorney.
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Initial checks with a key federal agency indicate Dalton was unknown to both law enforcement and counterterrorism agencies for having any known connection to extremist groups.
President Barack Obama said on Monday he had spoken to the mayor and top law enforcement in Kalamazoo about the shootings and pledged whatever federal support they need.
"Earlier this year, I took some steps that will make it harder for dangerous people like this individual to buy a gun. But clearly, we're going to need to do more if we're going to keep innocent Americans safe," Obama said in remarks before the National Governors Association at the White House.
Uber said on Monday it would not be changing the way it screened its drivers following the weekend shooting. It also said Dalton had received "very favorable" feedback from riders.
"There were no red flags, if you will, that we could anticipate something like this," said Uber's chief security officer, Joe Sullivan.
Uber drivers use their personal vehicles to ferry customers at prices generally below those of established taxi companies. Critics contend vetting is inadequate and the company never meets potential drivers in person.
The Dalton family said in a statement: "There are no words which can express our shock and disbelief, and we are devastated and saddened for the victims and the families of the victims,"
Michigan State Police said the shooting began at about 5:30 p.m. (2230 GMT) on Saturday with a woman wounded outside an apartment building. At about 10 p.m., Richard Smith and his son Tyler were killed at the car dealership.
About 15 minutes later four women identified as Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda, Michigan; and Dorothy Brown, 74; Barbara Hawthorne, 68; and Mary Jo Nye, 60, were fatally shot outside the restaurant.
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(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington, D.C., Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, Barbara Goldberg in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott)
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