Luxe valet driver involved in fatal accident

The on-demand valet parking service says it's the first fatality involving one of its drivers since it started in October 2014. The accident comes weeks after the San Francisco company secures $50 million in financing.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
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A Luxe driver was involved in a fatal traffic accident in San Francisco last month, three weeks after the fast-growing, on-demand valet service secured $50 million in financing to expand to new cities, CNET has learned.

The valet was driving a Jeep SUV on one of the city's main thoroughfares April 27 when he collided with a BMW making a left turn. The collision killed a 56-year-old Napa woman sitting in the passenger seat.

A Luxe spokesman confirmed the accident Monday and said the company was cooperating with the San Francisco Police Department. "Because it is an open investigation, we are not able to comment further," he said.

The fatality is the first for year-and-a-half-old Luxe, which says it contracts with "thousands" of drivers across the country. The company, which says its revenue is growing at 30 percent month-over-month, received a $50 million round of financing in April that was led by Hertz Global Holdings, the parent of the eponymous rental car company. Hertz CEO John Tague joined Luxe's board of directors as part of the investment.

Venture capital firms Redpoint Ventures and Venrock also participated in the financing.

Like Uber and Lyft, Luxe is part of the on-demand economy, in which services are sold via mobile apps on an as-needed basis. Many of these companies, including Luxe, use contract employees. That has raised concerns that workers aren't being vetted or trained as thoroughly as full- or part-time staff.

The use of independent contractors is also controversial because the companies don't typically provide Social Security payments, health insurance or sick days. Uber, a ride-hailing company, recently settled a pair of lawsuits with drivers over how it classifies its workers.

On its website, Luxe says that it puts valets through "a rigorous interview and training process" and requires a clean driving record, criminal background check and a nationwide sex offender search. The company also has a "a ZERO tolerance drug and alcohol policy."

On Monday, Uber and Lyft, another ride-hailing company, stopped providing service in Austin after voters there upheld city regulations that required fingerprint-based background checks and restricted where customers could be picked up and dropped off.

Luxe customers use the app to order a valet, who will pick up cars from the customer and park them in "one of our secure lots." The valets, who wear distinctive royal blue jackets and travel to pick-ups on scooters, also wash and fuel autos if the customer requests it. In addition to San Francisco, Luxe also operates in five other cities: Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Austin.

What makes Luxe different from a typical valet service is that its drivers will return the car anywhere the customer requests it -- rather than at just a drop-off point. Luxe recommends customers ask for a car's return 15 minutes in advance.

Valets are paid a minimum of $12 an hour but can make more depending on how many vehicles they handle during the hour.

The Luxe driver involved in the accident, Armani Diles of San Francisco, was driving northbound on the city's Embarcadero. The Jeep he was driving struck the BMW, which was apparently making a left turn, according to police. The accident is under investigation, with authorities examining whether speed was a factor in the crash.

Luxe, citing confidentiality laws, declined to provide information about Diles and his tenure with the firm. He's currently inactive with the company, pending the investigation.

Diles couldn't be reached for comment.

The collision trapped Janet Gelow, who was on her way to a San Francisco Giants baseball game, in the passenger seat. Firefighters freed her and her husband Mark, 59, from the wreck. She later died of injuries sustained in the crash.

CNET's Carrie Mihalcik contributed to this report.