Uber passenger recalls ride with Sayfullo Saipov days before NYC attack

Uber passenger recalls ride with Sayfullo Saipov days before NYC attack

NEW YORK – Damian Erskine, a 34-year-old British graphic designer, came to the United States with his girlfriend last weekend to attend a friend’s wedding in New York. Little did the couple know that the Uber they ordered Oct. 26 from Newark International Airport would be driven by Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov – the man who is now facing federal terrorism charges for killing at least eight people with a rented pickup truck in lower Manhattan on Halloween.

Saipov was registered as a driver for both Uber and Lyft.

Erskine described Saipov as “very friendly” and “a perfectly normal guy.” He said Saipov took the bags from Erskine’s girlfriend (who declined to be interviewed) Toyota Minivan – where the truck for the attack was rented.

A look at Saipov and the Uber route he took for Erskine and his girlfriend. CBS NEWS
Saipov was chatty during the ride, which lasted more than an hour on the way to Rockaway in New Jersey. He talked about real estate prices in Manhattan versus London and spoke admiringly about Range Rovers, saying he hoped to own one someday, Erskine recalled. Saipov disclosed that he was also a truck driver and mentioned a trip where he drove from New Jersey to California.

Erskine thought he seemed “totally, totally normal.”

“You get a vibe from someone … there is definitely something that seems to be there,” Erskine said.

Damian Erskine CBS NEWS
Erskine says Saipov did not mention religion or politics during the ride ride and that he was not critical of the United States in any way. They did not talk about where Saipov was from or how long he had lived in America. Erskine thought Saipov spoke very good English with not much of an accent.

The couple returned to the U.K. on the morning of Oct. 31 – the same day as the deadly rampage in lower Manhattan.

“The day we landed was what we had in the World Trade Center,” Erskine said. “It’s a really weird feeling.”

It was not until Wednesday, after watching coverage on BBC News, that it was not an hour in a car with the suspect. He checked his Uber receipt and confirmed the name was a match. He says he contacted U.S. authorities in Britain and reported his experience to investigators.

Truck plows into pedestrians in NYC attack
He remains shaken by the close encounter with a man government say bragged about killing people in the name of ISIS.

“When people talk about radicalization and that kind of thing … it’s that ability to live a normal life, when how much is an act,” Erskine said. “But what is it that makes transition from being the friendly polite person to being the murderer? That transition should be the focus.”

Erskine said that he physically felt sick after learning of the attack that left two Americans, five Argentines and a Belgian dead.

“Just repulsion really,” Erskine said. “You think, was there anything you might have a flag?” I know there was not. That’s the worst part … you could have done anything because you could have made a phone call. ”

“I could spend the next week dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ and ‘hows,'” he said. “It’s not going to change anything.”