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Proposed SC law could 'make it harder for psychos to be psychos' after USC student slain

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Five Points Samantha Josephson (copy)

Samantha Josephson left the Bird Dog bar in Columbia’s Five Points early Friday morning to catch what she thought was an Uber. Her body was found by hunters in a wooded area of Clarendon County on Friday afternoon. Andy Shain/Staff

COLUMBIA — Drivers for Uber and other ride-booking companies would have to put lighted logos in their windshield to help people identify their ride under legislation being proposed in response to the killing of a University of South Carolina student who authorities say got into an imposter's vehicle.

The 2015 state law enabling people to catch a ride through a cellphone app requires a company's logo to be easily visible on the driver's vehicle "so as to be seen in darkness" but gives the option of having a reflective or illuminated decal.    

Rep. Seth Rose, D-Columbia, said an illuminated logo should be mandatory. He plans to introduce the bill Tuesday. 

A lighted logo may have made it easier for 21-year-old Samantha Josephson to spot her correct ride when she was leaving a Five Points bar about 1:30 a.m. Friday, he said. 

"It makes me sick to my stomach that this happened," said Rose, who earned his bachelor's and law degrees from USC and lives near Five Points. "I can’t imagine the pain the family’s going through. It’s a very senseless tragedy and disgusting act."  

Josephson's body was found late Friday afternoon by turkey hunters in rural Clarendon County. Nathaniel Rowland, 24, of Clarendon County, faces murder and kidnapping charges.

Authorities say Rowland was arrested early Saturday after he ran from a car parked at Five Points that matched what surveillance video showed Josephson getting into. Police found her cellphone and her blood in the car, according to arrest records.

Rose is naming his proposal Samantha L. Josephson Ridesharing Safety Act as a remembrance due to her parents' request. 

"Don't ever forget her name," her mother Marci Josephson told the court at a bond hearing Sunday. Rowland had waived his right to appear. Seymour Josephson, the slain woman's father, told hundred of students at a vigil Sunday that he plans to fight for improvements with ride-booking.  

Lighted ride-booking logos already exist. 

Uber began rolling out its glowing Beacon more than two years ago. The color changes to whatever the rider chooses when confirming a pickup, according to the company's website.

"Beacon's color-matching technology makes it easier for riders to find you, especially at night and in crowded areas," reads the site.

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It's unclear where the lighted signs are being used. Uber's website says it's "currently being released in a limited number of markets." In response to a request for comment, an Uber spokesman provided general safety tips for riders but did not answer any specific questions.

Five ride-booking companies are authorized to operate in South Carolina.

Uber has by far the most drivers, with 13,000 on its rolls as of last year. No. 2 Lyft had less than half that. The other three are limited to certain cities or to riders with disabilities, according to the state Office of Regulatory Staff. 

Lyft offers a lighted logo only in certain cities and for drivers who reach "gold" or "platinum" status in the number of rides provided monthly.

"If there are safeguards put in for other areas, why not all areas?" Rose asked.

Rep. Micah Caskey, R-West Columbia, called the bill that he's co-sponsoring a "commonsense solution" for helping riders identify which vehicle is their lift. 

"Nothing is ever going to stop psychos from doing psycho things, but if we can take one step to make it harder for psychos to be psychos, we should do it," he said. 

While lighted logos can be helpful, particularly when lots of people in the same area are catching rides, they're no substitute for checking that the license plate of the vehicle pulling up matches the information sent on the app, said Harry Campbell, founder of The Rideshare Guy blog and podcast.

Even checking the vehicle's make and model is not enough, he said.

"In busy places and times — like, for example, if you're getting out of the bars at 2 a.m. when everyone is requesting an Uber — there's a pretty good chance the more common cars, there could be four or five of them out there in the same color. That's where the license plate is so important," said Campbell, who's been a driver for Lyft and Uber since 2014 and literally wrote a book about it, called "The Rideshare Guide."

It's fairly easy for a scammer to get hold of a logo. Even the lighted logos can be purchased on auction site eBay, Campbell said. 

Rowland was not an Uber driver, and it's unclear if he had any sort of logo on his vehicle. 

"When you're extra impatient, that's when sometimes scam drivers can take advantage of riders," Campbell said. "The best and really the only way to ensure 100 percent you're getting into the right car is to check the license plate on the app with the car that shows up."

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.