What Led to Uber Killer Jason Dalton's Rampage? Plus, How His Survivors Are Now

This week, '20/20' focuses on Jason Dalton, the Uber Driver Killer, and the victims whose lives he took or forever altered. Learn more about the Kalamazoo shootings.

Amber Garrett - Author

Feb. 21 2019, Updated 4:09 p.m. ET

why uber driver killed
Source: MLive

Most people see Uber as the best way to get home safely after a night out, but on the night of February 20, 2016, several users of the app in Kalamazoo unwittingly found themselves in a car with a mass killer. Jason Brian Dalton, who was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison without the possibility of parole, went on a shooting spree that evening, killing six and injuring two others before the now 48-year-old convicted murderer was apprehended.

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During and immediately after the shootings, Dalton accepted several Uber fares, which he completed without major incident — though one passenger warned friends on social media about her erratic ride with him. Another customer even jokingly asked Dalton if he was the killer who was on the loose. Read on for more details on Dalton, his killing spree, and the victims of his rampage.

Why the Uber driver killed — according to Dalton himself.

Jason Dalton of Cooper Township, Michigan, pursued an education in law enforcement but, according to a friend, ultimately opted not to pursue it as a career, since it would have meant relocating. Instead, he retrained as an auto mechanic in Laramie, Wyoming and worked both as a mechanic and an insurance adjuster.  At the time of his crimes he was supplementing his income by driving for Uber.

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jason dalton sentencing
Source: ABC

It seems strange that Dalton was unwilling to relocate for a job in law enforcement, since he did relocate both for his mechanic training and to accept a job with BMW North American in New Jersey. Eventually, he made his way back to Michigan, where he translated his knowledge of auto body repair into a career as an insurance adjuster. He married Carole Dalton in 1995 (she filed for divorce days after her husband was arrested for murder.)

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Though family, friends, and neighbors classified Dalton as "normal" and "a good family man," coworkers saw an angry streak come out in him on a few occasions. One former colleague told police he witnessed Dalton yelling at a customer over the phone, "eventually slamming the phone down, hanging up on the customer." Afterwards, "Jason was very upset and stood up and paced around his desk after the conversation," the report continued. The coworker also said it wasn't the first incident that called into question his demeanor with customers.

Aside from these signs of a potential imbalance or anger issue, Dalton seemed OK to the people in his life, but the story he gave police painted a more troubling picture of his mental state. He blamed the killings on the Uber app, which he said controlled his mind and "took over [his[ whole body, compelling him to carry out the murders. He claimed the app's symbol resembled the insignia for the Order of the Eastern Star (a Masonic organization with no ties to the occult or Satanism) and then showed him a devil figure with a horned cow head that would "give you an assignment and it would literally take over your whole body."

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uber killer order of eastern star
Source: Uber, Wikimedia Commons

A comparison of the Uber app screen at the time and the Order of the Eastern Star insignia

Dalton also said he didn't remember the shootings, implying he was in a trance-like state when he carried out the killings. His legal team initially pursued an insanity plea, but on the scheduled day of opening statements in his trial, he entered a guilty plea for all counts.

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The Uber Driver Killer's eight victims:

Before the shootings

The day of the shootings, Dalton and a friend went to three different gun stores. He took an Uber fare at 4 p.m. His passenger, Matt Melllen, observed him driving erratically and was alarmed enough during the ride that he called 911 and gave the dispatcher Dalton's license plate number, description, and a description of his car, a Chevy Equinox. 

Dalton went home and called his wife, asking to swap the Equinox for their Hummer H3. On the way to his parents' house, where he planned to make the switch, he took another fare, whose destination was the scene of his first shootings.

Victim 1: Tiana Carruthers, 25  (survived)

However, it seems the next rider gave Dalton the wrong address. She texted to inform him the address was wrong and it's believed anger over this mixup incited Dalton's first shooting. Tiana Carruthers told police that Dalton had asked whether she was someone else — possibly the passenger he was looking to pick up — and when she said she wasn't, he shot her several times. She sustained four gunshots to the arm, back, and leg, but survived by playing dead. 

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After fleeing the scene, Dalton committed a hit and run, with no serious injuries resulting. He met up with his family and explained the damage on the Equinox away by saying he was struck by a cab driver who was irate over losing business to Uber. He gave his wife a handgun and told her to stay home with the kids. When the H3 wouldn't start, he switched to his wife's Chevy HHR and cryptically told his wife that while he couldn't tell her what was going on, she would hear about it on the news.

He went to the bank to withdraw money, then switched guns and went back out to take more fares.

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Victims 2 and 3: Tyler Smith, 17, and Richard E. Smith, 53 (dead)

At 10 p.m., Dalton parked at a Kia dealership and shot a father and his son. Witnesses at a Burger King across the street captured him on video as another called 911.

rich tyler smith

Rich and Tyler Smith

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Victims 4-8 (4 dead, 1 survived)

Ten minutes after this double murder, Dalton shot five more people in a Cracker Barrel parking lot five miles from the dealership. He approached a woman in a white van and asked her a question. He shot the woman and her passengers, as well as her friends in another car. 

uber killer victims cracker barrel shooting
Source: Facebook

L-R: Mary Jo Nye, Mary Lou Nye, Abigail Kopf, Barbara Hawthorne

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All told, this third shooting brought the death toll to six and another sustained serious injuries. Dalton killed sisters-in-law Mary Jo Nye, 60, and Mary Lou Nye, 62. He also killed their friends, Dorothy Brown, 74, and Barbara Hawthorne, 68. Barbara's 14-year-old granddaughter, Abigail Kopf, suffered a gunshot wound to the head and other injuries, but she survived. However, she underwent several surgeries to attend to her brain injury and other wounds, as well as to address complications from a MRSA infection she contracted at the site of her head incision.

How are Dalton's surviving victims now?

uber killer survivors
Source: Facebook, ABC
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Tiana Carruthers' injuries required several surgeries to reconstruct her arm and legs, and she still carries around a bullet in her liver that doctors monitor every few months to ensure it isn't compromising her. Doctors also had to insert metal rods to support both her femurs and another to repair her left arm.

Abigail Kopf nearly succumbed to her injuries and was in critical condition for weeks after she was shot in the head by Dalton. Thankfully, Abigail has made significant recovery and was even able to attend her homecoming dance in 2017. However, she will suffer the effects of her traumatic brain injury for the rest of her life.

20/20 will cover the case in an upcoming episode.

This Friday, February 22 at 9 p.m. ET, the ABC newsmagazine show will cover Dalton's crimes in detail, including never-before-seen tapes from his interrogation, interviews with his survivors, and some of the family still grieving the other six victims.

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