An Uber passenger who said he was picked up by the Kalamazoo shooting suspect “went into fight or flight mode” as his speeding driver dodged oncoming traffic during the short but terrifying ride.
Matt Mellen, 30, feared for his life and braced himself for a possible devastating crash as Jason Dalton—the man accused of shooting six people dead during an hours-long rampage—chauffeured him around Saturday. “I was petrified,” Mellen told TIME on Monday. “I was just preparing myself for impact. I thought I was going to get in a head-on collision or hit a house. I just did everything I thought I could at the time just to get out of that situation.”
Mellen, who managed to flee the vehicle, said Dalton was acting normally and driving safely when the six-minute ride began about 4:20 p.m.—before the shooting spree started. It wasn’t until his driver received an “odd” phone call that he started driving erratically, blowing through a stop sign, sideswiping a car and swerving around other vehicles as he drove on the wrong side of traffic.
“I was pleading with him to stop the car so I could get out, but he wouldn’t stop,” Mellen recalled. “We blew past my destination, whipped down the next block. I was just pointing at random houses just so he could stop. He slammed on the brakes and I ran out. I could smell burning rubber from the drive.”
Mellen, who works for a local brewery, said he called 911 immediately after the 3-mile ride. The dispatch with the vehicle’s information and general vicinity was sent to every on-duty officer and later helped authorities in their search for the shooter, Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley told TIME on Monday.
Mellen then called his fiancé, Mackenzie Waite. “He was shaken up,” Waite, 27, told TIME. “He was really kind of traumatized. He was freaked out by it. He went into fight or flight mode.”
Waite warned her friends about the driver in a Facebook post, which was widely shared on social media. Two hours after Mellen’s ride, Dalton allegedly began his long series of attacks. The seven-hour string of violence started outside an apartment complex, continued at a car dealership and ended in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, authorities said.
“I was feeling pretty lucky that I was able to get out of there,” Mellen said. “The main focus should be on the victims who lost their lives.”