Family demands answers following daughter’s mysterious rideshare death
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The family of Ciaya Whetstone, a 21-year-old woman who mysteriously arrived at a hospital dead in February, say they have not received updates from the police, hospital staff, or the rideshare company their daughter last used.
In a press conference held on Thurs., March 3 at the University of New Orleans, where Whetstone was a psychology and neuroscience senior, her mother and father held a framed photo of their daughter, joined by attorneys and state representatives to demand answers.
“It has been nearly two weeks,” Attorney L. Chris Stewart, CEO of Stewart Miller Simmons, began. “And her mother has zero information.”
Stewart says nobody has informed the family how she died, a cause of death, or any information from Uber about the driver’s background or the route they took that fateful night.
“For two weeks they have had to suffer,” he continued. “They don’t know if she was sexually assaulted. They don’t know if she was drugged. They don’t know anything. I want you to imagine what they are going through.”
“She’s been with me since I was 18 years old,” her mother, Miranda Ferrand, said. “She was my best friend. I brought her here to graduate, not come pack her up... to bury her. She was a great person. She never met a stranger. She always wanted to leave people better than she found them. She is a precious angel and I will not rest.”
Whetstone reportedly called an Uber after attending a Mardi Gras party around 1:30 a.m. on Sat., Feb. 19. Attorneys say she decided to go home to take care of her dog. The same Uber driver who picked her up brought her to the hospital nearly six hours later where she was later pronounced dead, they say.
The Orleans Parish Coroner has yet to determine an official cause of death.
“We aren’t asking anymore for answers. We are demanding answers on what happened to their daughter. Now,” he said. “We need a cause of death. We need to know if she was sexually assaulted. We need to know from Uber the route of the driver. The name of the driver... that would help. We can look up the background information on the driver. We need to know how long he was driving. If he played no role in this, then disclose that information to us or you’ll see a lawsuit by next week because that seems to be the only way you can get an answer from Uber.”
Police have said the investigation is ongoing and her death remains unclassified. They say Whetstone’s biological father contacted NOPD immediately and has been cooperating.
“We trust putting our loved ones in your vehicles every day. We trust getting in it intoxicated. We trust getting in it injured or hurt or sick. And once you ruin the trust with the public, you ruin your company,” he said.
“They deserve answers,” Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg) said. “No one is accusing anybody of anything but we need to know what happened.”
He said Ferrand pressed New Orleans police for details into the investigation and received nothing in return, only learning extra details, such as Ciaya’s pupils being dilated and her face being blue, by reading the news online.
“Put yourself in her shoes,” he said. “I don’t think you’d ever get over that.”
Detectives say they plan to meet with Ferrand Thursday afternoon.
Bamberg said he is interested in looking at implementing new policies to further protect rideshare passengers. He referenced the 2019 murder of Samantha Josephson, who mistook Nathaniel Rowland’s car for her Uber ride and was stabbed roughly 120 times and dumped 65 miles away in remote woods.
Josephson’s death cast a national spotlight on rideshare safety and led to changes, including more prominent displays of driver’s license plates in the app and lights on cars indicating which app they were driving for.
“We’re going to continue to look at how we can improve and make ridesharing safer for the general public,” he continued. “I would hope that people would look at the same thing here in Louisiana.”
Rep. Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat, said it is the driver’s job to get from point A to point B, not to be a tour guide.
“This is everybody’s worst nightmare,” he said. “And if we are encouraging young people, who may have had a drink or two, to do the smart thing and take a rideshare, then there is a burden and there is a responsibility that has to lie at the foot of the company; clear regulations, clear guidelines that create defined space between that driver and that passenger.”
Uber said in a statement they are working with law enforcement and have removed the driver’s access to the app.
Anyone with additional information that can assist in this investigation is asked to contact NOPD Seventh District detectives at 504-658-6070 or to call anonymously to Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans at 504-822-1111 or toll-free at 1-877-903-STOP.
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