The 19-year-old victim, surnamed Zhao, was heading for a birthday party in the Zhejiang city of Wenzhou and booked a ride through Didi’s “carpooling service,” Hitch, on August 24th. After being picked up, she sent a series of WeChat messages to a friend, saying that the driver was taking her up to an isolated mountain road and that she was frightened.
Her final messages read: “Help” and “Save me.”
The driver, 27-year-old Zhong Yuan, was arrested early the next morning. He confessed to raping and murdering Zhao before throwing her body off a cliff. Officers soon located the corpse in a mountainous area outside of town.
At his trial in February, local prosecutors described Zhong’s crime as premeditated, explaining that in order to pay off his online gambling debts, he planned to rob a female passenger, coming prepared with a knife and tape. Before he murdered her, Zhong had forced Zhao to transfer 9,000 yuan ($1,320) over to him on WeChat.
In fact, Zhong had already once tried to drive a female passenger to the secluded area in order to rob her, but the woman had managed to get away. She contacted Didi in the hope of getting Zhong’s license revoked, however, the company did not take any actions.
The court found Zhong guilty on all charges and sentenced him to death. Zhong appealed to higher courts, but the sentence was upheld.
Zhao’s murder marked the second time in 2018 that a Hitch driver killed a female passenger. The high-profile incident forced Didi to make apologies, suspend its Hitch service, and launch an overhaul of its safety and security measures in an attempt to reassure nervous users and angry government officials.