NORTH WILDWOOD – Seymour Josephson stepped to the microphone, at the Aug. 18 North Wildwood City Council meeting, to talk about his organization, the #whatsmyname Foundation, born after his 21-year-old daughter, Samantha, mistakenly got into a car she believed to be manned by an Uber driver.
The vehicle’s locks were disabled, and the University of South Carolina senior was trapped by a man who would brutally take her life.
Josephson, of Robbinsville Township (Mercer County), admitted that recalling the events still choked him up, but he had a story to tell that might keep another parent from suffering what he and his family endured.
Samantha, or Sami, as she is known by family and friends, was abducted March 29, 2019, just months before graduating, and was looking forward to Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, where she was offered a scholarship.
She left a bar in the Five Points area of Columbia, South Carolina, at 2 a.m., and got into a black Chevy Impala allegedly driven by 24-year-old Nathaniel Rowland, mistaking the vehicle and driver for her Uber.
Samantha was being tracked by her boyfriend on his cellphone, who soon realized something wasn’t right. She was reported missing the next afternoon, and her body was found soon after. Rowland was arrested and charged with kidnapping and murder.
Samantha’s blood was found in the back seat and trunk of the car, as she suffered multiple stab wounds.
Josephson, his wife, Marci, and daughter, Sydney, wasted little time creating a foundation aimed at sparing other parents from having to go through what they were experiencing.
Ridesharing safety laws were passed, in South Carolina and New Jersey, and a national bill passed Congress, revised to be even stronger by the Senate, and is being sent back to the House for a vote there, then the Senate and soon thereafter to the president’s desk for his signature.
The law would require all rideshare vehicles to have lighted signs in the windshield and a QR (quick response) code that passengers can scan from outside the vehicle that confirms the ride and other safety measures.
Uber and Lyft, national rideshare companies, joined the cause and are helping the Josephson’s get their message out.
Last year, Uber introduced Verify Your Ride, which provides riders with a four-digit pin that they can verbally provide to their driver, who will have to enter it into their app to start the trip. Lyft will soon introduce similar technology.
Josephson showed one of the signs the foundation provides, with the acronym S.A.M.I., which stands for:
"Stop: Plan ahead. Before you request a ride, think about where you're headed and review the safety features in the app so you know how to use them.
"Ask: Ask your driver “what’s my name” to confirm they have booked a trip with you through the ridesharing app.
"Match: Match the make, model, and license plate of the car with the one displayed in the app.
"Inform: Share the details of your trip with a friend. Utilize the "share" status function in the Uber app."
Josephson said North Wildwood police were interested in the program and requested signs and business-sized cards they can distribute to people in “rideshare zones.”
Josephson described those zones as places where there are bars, restaurants, or other places where people congregate.
“Uber reported 6,000 incidents this year,” Josephson told the council. “Samantha was not the first person this happened to, but we hope she is the last.”
The key to awareness is to get the information in front of people on a repetitive basis, he said.
“We need to get these signs in strategic locations,” he explained.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said he is in favor of the signage and efforts to keep ridesharing a safe mode of transportation in town.
“We have a bar zone here where this would be helpful. My 16-year-old just recently took his first ride in a rideshare car with his friends, so I am interested in the safety of these vehicles,” Rosenello said.
Josephson responded, “The law in New Jersey says passengers in a rideshare vehicle have to be 18, but some drivers don’t always abide by that.”
“Well, now you have me rethinking that,” Rosenello said.
After the meeting, Josephson said the idea of making rideshare safer is gaining global recognition.
“In addition to calls and emails from all over the U.S., we have had emails from Israel, Europe, London, and others all looking for information on how they can do this, too,” Josephson said.
A call from Salt Lake City, Utah, made all the heartache and hard work the Josephson family has gone through in the last year worth it.
“The woman said a man attempted to pick her up, pretending to be her rideshare driver. She applied the S.A.M.I. steps and realized he was a fake and didn’t get in. That’s why we do what we do.”
To contact Carl Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org.