US Uber driver admits to shooting spree

  • 23/02/2016
Jason Dalton (Reuters)
Jason Dalton (Reuters)

A man working as an Uber driver admitted to the fatal weekend shootings of six people in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a police detective has testified in a case raising questions about how the car service vets its drivers.

Jason Dalton, 45, was denied bail on Monday (local time) as he made his first court appearance on 16 charges including six of murder that can bring life in prison.

Dalton told detectives "he took people's lives", Kalamazoo public safety detective Cory Ghiringhelli testified in a county district court ahead of the suspect's arraignment.

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.

When asked if he had anything to say, Dalton, who appeared emotionless through the proceedings, said he preferred to "remain silent".

The judge denied bail and set March 3 for the next hearing.

After the hearing Kalamazoo County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Getting told reporters Dalton had been co-operative with authorities but motives for the shootings were still unclear.

"No one understands why it happened, and that adds to the fear and the sorrow," Getting said.

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 240km west of Detroit.

Police were investigating reports Dalton drove customers of the Uber car-hailing service the night of the rampage. Two people were wounded in the shootings, including a teenage girl who was initially thought to have died.

Initial checks with a key federal agency indicate Dalton was unknown to both law enforcement and counter-terrorism agencies for having any known connection to extremist groups.

US 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 spree. It also said Dalton had received "very favourable" 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.

Critics contend vetting is inadequate and the company never meets potential drivers in person.

"A background check is just that -- a background check. It does not foresee the future," Ed Davis, of the Uber Safety Advisory Board, told a teleconference with reporters.

The shooting began at about 5:30pm on Saturday with a woman wounded outside an apartment building. About 10pm, Richard Smith, 53, and his son Tyler, 17, were killed at the car dealership.

About 15 minutes later four women identified as Mary Lou Nye, 62, Dorothy Brown, 74, Barbara Hawthorne, 68, and Mary Jo Nye, 60, were fatally shot outside the restaurant.

AAP