NAPA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - A nightmare ride for an Uber driver in Napa is being investigated as a hate crime.
The 41-year-old driver says a passenger assaulted him and even threatened to kill him, because of his immigrant status.
"The man asked him where he was from and he replied he was from Afghanistan," said Napa County Sheriff's Captain Jon Crawford.
As the driver tells it, that was the moment a drive through the beautiful Napa Valley turned ugly, with the passenger harassing him incessantly about his country of origin.
The driver, who lives in Concord, picked up a man and woman at Krug Winery in Saint Helena at about 4:30 Saturday afternoon.
The driver told deputies the man was drunk and slurring his words, and keeping up a cursing tirade.
"Statements like 'you shouldn't even be in this country'" said Capt. Crawford, "and I'm going to punch you in the face, I'm going to punch you in your big nose, I'm going to kill you. Things of this nature, swearing at him."
The intended destination for the couple's ride was the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa.
Uber driver Jerry Comfort of Yountville was there Tuesday, picking up fares, and had heard about the attack on a fellow driver.
"Anybody who's drunk can go off on people," observed Comfort, "and the guy was huge, I guess, he was 6'7".
Comfort avoids driving on weekends and at winery closing times because of drunken passengers.
But he acknowledges there is risk any time someone gets in his car.
"Whether it be a taxi or an Uber or a Lyft, that could happen to anybody, when someone's irate about somebody and it's racially driven."
The fearful Uber driver made it about a third of the way to town, and then pulled into Mumm on the Silverado Trail.
There, he tried to unload his two passengers.
The man grabbed him by the shoulder before exiting, and then continued to run after the car, pounding on it.
"It's a large man, about 6 feet, 7 inches tall," said Crawford, "so the driver feared for his safety, with this person coming for him again."
Responding deputies found no trace of the couple at Mumm or at the hotel downtown, so investigators have turned to Uber for the customer's name.
"The warrant has been written and authorized and served, and it's just up to Uber to get us that information," said Crawford.
A ride that began so innocuously may end as a hate crime case, involving criminal threats and battery, something the Uber driver never saw coming.
"From what I understand, he's a little emotional about it," said Crawford, "which is understandable. It was a pretty traumatic thing for him."
Sheriff's department says this incident points out the value of putting cameras in ride share cars, for everyone's protection.
The suspect is described as white, in his 40's, with short black hair, and quite tall.
The couple are presumed to be tourists, but investigators won't know until Uber cooperates.
"We want the community to feel safe, whether they're a tourist, here for business, pleasure, or they live here," said Crawford, "everyone deserves to feel safe."