(LOS ANGELES) — An arrest made in a series of sexual assaults in Southern California allegedly by a man posing as a rideshare driver prompted authorities today to warn people to be on alert and double check the car they hailed.
The warning came a day after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed a 27-count complaint against Nicholas Morales, 44, stemming from the sexual assaults of at least seven women he allegedly lured into his car by masquerading as rideshare driver.
Morales, who is married and lives in Santa Clarita, California, is being held on $10.3 million bail, prosecutors said.
“There may be people out there who are potentially seeking victims who use these agencies. People just need to be alert about the cars they get into, especially when they’ve been to a club and they’ve been drinking,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Guillermina Saldana told ABC News.
While Saldana said there was no credible evidence of other sex predators pretending to be rideshare drivers, she noted there have been similar incidents across the country.
“There is that chance of people taking advantage of others,” she said, adding that before getting into cars, customers should double check the license plate and car description sent to them via a rideshare app.
Morales was arrested Friday in Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra. He is suspected in a string of sex attacks on women in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles dating back to Oct. 9, 2016, police said.
In May, Los Angeles police released a sketch of the suspect they were hunting.
At the time, police detailed an attack that occurred on Jan. 7, 2017: “The female victim left a club in the Hollywood area and got into the suspect’s vehicle, a late-model four-door car, believing it was the ridesharing car she had ordered. The suspect drove the victim to a secluded location, where he sexually assaulted her. During the time the suspect kept the victim captive.”
Morales was charged in the 2017 attack in Hollywood, according to prosecutors.
Sgt. Steven Carr, a spokesman for the Alhambra Police Department, said Morales was arrested in connection with the final attack he allegedly committed on Dec. 30, 2017.
In a written statement, Carr said a woman called 911 the night of the attack, telling police the suspect had picked her up in Los Angeles before taking her to a secluded parking lot in Alhambra, where he attacked her. Carr said forensic evidence led police to Morales and that detectives served a search warrant at his Santa Clarita home and seized several items.
Alhambra police connected Morales to several unsolved sexual assaults throughout Los Angeles County over the past year.
The felony complaint against Morales includes multiple counts of rape, forced oral copulation, sodomy and sexual penetration by foreign object.
If convicted, Morales faces 15 years to life in prison.
Morales’ wife had hired a private attorney to represent him in the case. The attorney, Antoinette Lias, confirmed that she has since declined to represent Morales due to the gravity of the case and the time it would take to present a proper defense.
During a brief appearance in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday, a judge postponed Morales’ arraignment and informed the defendant that a public defender would likely be assigned to his case.
While expressing relief that Morales was arrested, some rideshare customers remained rattled by the series of attacks.
“As a woman, and as somebody who goes out at night in Hollywood, it’s scary,” Rachel Evans told KABC. “You know, when it’s 2 in the morning and you’re getting out of a bar, you’re not really looking at the license plate.”
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