The year 2020 has not been kind to Miguel Ochoa.
The 46-year-old suffered serious symptoms after contracting COVID-19 and lost his clothing store due to the pandemic.
Ochoa began driving for Uber to make ends meet and was trying complete a quota for a cash bonus when he received a ride request near the Phoenix Rising stadium after 11 p.m. on Oct 24.
He picked up two men. They were acting rowdy, and Ochoa said he could tell they were quite drunk. Though he was hesitant about serving those types of passengers, Ochoa said he was more concerned about reaching his quota.
Ochoa was driving south on Scottsdale Road for about five minutes when one of the passengers punched him in the back of his head, causing the car to swerve into another lane. Angry and confused, Ochoa regained control of the vehicle and pulled over before telling the men that the ride was over and they needed to get out.
He said the two men seemed confused as to why Ochoa was upset. They refused to leave and told him to keep going. Ochoa eventually exited the car himself and opened a passenger-side door while repeating his demand. The two eventually complied when the man who initially struck Ochoa tried goading him into a fight.
Ochoa told The Arizona Republic what happened next.
He said he turned around to re-enter his car when the man shoved him. Ochoa tried shoving the man back but tripped when the man kicked him in the face.
The man hit him again.
And again. And again.
Pain screamed across his face with every strike. Ochoa thought he was going to die.
“The guy wasn’t really stopping,” Ochoa said during a phone interview. “I was praying to God that he’d stop, but he just kept hitting me.”
Another man driving a golf cart eventually saw the assault and intervened. That man then flagged down a nearby police cruiser.
Bloody shoes and slurred speech
According to a Scottsdale police report, an officer noticed blood on the alleged assailant’s shoes and pants and asked the man where it had come from.
“It happens,” the man responded. The officer then pointed at Ochoa and asked what had happened to him; the man muttered, “This guy, man,” and “This is a joke.”
Police identified the alleged assailant in the report, but The Republic is not naming him because, nearly a month after the incident, Scottsdale police have not yet recommended any charges to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
According to the officer, the man’s speech was slurred and he gave off a strong scent of alcohol as he spoke.
The officer consulted with the other officers who had interviewed Ochoa and witnesses before returning to place the man under arrest.
According to the police report, the man interrupted the officer as he was being read his Miranda Rights, saying: “I would be more than willing to give him a lot of money to get away.” Then he said, “I don’t know what that means,” according to the report.
The man later told the officer that Ochoa attacked him and his friend, though the officer didn’t notice any injuries on the man.
The report says the man was booked into jail and released several hours later on his own recognizance.
Sgt. Ben Hoster, a Police Department spokesman, told The Republic that the investigation was ongoing and charges were pending.
It’s unclear what, if anything, happened to the man’s companion.
Nose broken in multiple places
As his alleged attacker was placed under arrest, Ochoa was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors informed him that his nose was broken in multiple places and would require surgery.
Ochoa went under the knife the next day and was discharged with orders to follow up after a few weeks to see if more surgery was needed.
Ochoa said a Scottsdale police officer told him they planned on filing felony aggravated assault charges against the man once the investigation was complete based on the severity of his injuries.
Although doctors put his shattered nose back together, Ochoa said he still can’t breathe through it, which causes him to wake up throughout the night.
He also said he now suffers from chronic headaches and the over-the-counter painkillers don’t do enough to dull the pain. Ochoa said he prefers dealing with the pain than risk using highly addictive opioids.
Ochoa said he has no idea what prompted the initial punch to the back of his head, as he didn’t exchange any words with the man during the ride.
“I did nothing,” Ochoa said. “I did nothing to provoke this. This guy is just sick.”
Uber doesn’t appear to offer aid
Ochoa said when he reported the incident to Uber and asked for help, representatives of the ride-sharing company said there wasn’t anything they could do.
Lacking medical insurance, Ochoa is relying on his family to help him deal with the mountain of medical bills he incurred.
Ochoa said he was disappointed that Uber, a multibillion-dollar company, told him it couldn’t help pay the medical bills he incurred while working.
“The least they could do is have some kind of help for people who are victims of violent crimes, you know?” Ochoa said. “Especially in this situation. But they don’t have that.”
An Uber spokeswoman told The Republic that the company was aware of the incident and condemned the passenger’s actions.
“There is no excuse for the violent acts described,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “We will fully cooperate with law enforcement to support their investigation, and the rider’s access to the app has been permanently removed.”
The spokeswoman did not respond to multiple inquiries regarding whether the company would offer any assistance to Ochoa — or other Uber drivers who are assaulted on the job.
Uber, along with other ride-share and delivery companies, have engaged in legal battles asserting their drivers are independent contractors and thus aren’t entitled to health benefits.
Doctors recommended that Ochoa not return to work for at least two weeks as he continued to heal, but Ochoa’s unsure whether he’ll continue driving for Uber after the assault.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Ochoa said. “I’m definitely going to think twice about doing Uber again.”