UPDATE: 58-year-old Auburn Lyft driver recalls surviving brutal attack

Local News

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – The 58-year-old female Lyft driver in Auburn,  brutally attacked over the weekend is sharing her story with News 3.  A 20-year-old Auburn University student is facing charges in the assault and has been arrested by Auburn police.

Thursday, Lennie Hartzog sat down with News 3 to describe the weekend events that left her battered with broken bones and bruises. Hartzog has a long recovery ahead of her after police say 20-year-old Jess Ralston attacked her after refusing to get out of her Lyft vehicle

“I remember getting punched in the face and that hurt. Then I remember getting kicked in the arm,” recalled Hartzog.

Hartzog is covered in bruises. Some are still black and purple; others are a more yellowish tint. Her injuries include black eyes, a broken nose, bruised ears, cheeks, and neck all the way down to a fractured humerus in her arm, Hartzog’s injuries are painful to look at them.

“I had a momentary flash it could all end tonight, but I’m pretty tough,” she said.

Sunday morning, around 1:00 AM, the 58-year-old Lyft driver says a friend of 20-year-old Jess Ralston arranged a ride home for the AU student from a downtown bar. During the trip, Hartzog recalls Ralston seemed angry.   

“He was like I’m gonna kill somebody, tell him I’m gonna kill him. So I just let him run his mouth and when we got to his apartment complex and his building he refused to get out of the car. So I called 911, they had units on the way, and the dispatcher said why don’t you just open the car door and see if he will get out. As soon as I opened the door he had his left arm cocked, and he hit me in the face,” Hartzog recalls.

Hartzog says she fell to the parking lot where Ralston continued beating her with his fists and kicking her with his feet. She says the beating seemed like forever, but lasted maybe 30 or 45 seconds. Hartzog remembers Auburn police pulling Ralston off of her and then getting her medical help. Her face was bleeding, and her shoulder hurt severely.

“This can happen to anybody even the loveliest village on the plains,” said Hartzog.

Monday, Ralston was charged with Assault Third Degree by Auburn police. Hartzog, who’s also a paramedic and former police officer believes the charges should be upgraded to a felony.
     
“Because Assault Third is a joke. I mean when you break somebody’s humerus, it’s the longest bone in your arm. You’ve got to have a lot of force to do that. It needs to be at least Assault Second, a felony,” she said.

Hartzog will be out of work for at least a month. She plans on returning to driving, a job she enjoys and needs to pay the bills. She’s urging all drivers to be extremely careful but still believes Auburn is a safe place, saying her love for students has not diminished.

“New students have a special place in my heart. They are good people, and I think this guy was just an outlier. I’ll take some time to heal up and reconsider some policy changes, but yea I’ll drive,” Hartzog said.

News 3 reached out to Auburn University for a statement on the student’s arrest:

“Auburn University is committed to the safety of our campus and surrounding community.  All Auburn students are held to the behavioral standards found in the Student Code of Conduct, and many of those standards apply to student behavior that occurs on or off campus.  Any violation of the Code is referred to the Office of Student Conduct for review and processing in accordance with University policy.  Student privacy laws prevent the University from commenting on any specific student disciplinary matter.”

Auburn police tell News 3 the case remains under investigation and felony assault charges are possible.

Hartzog can’t work as a driver or paramedic for at least a month. An account has been set up at Auburn Bank in Hartzog’s name to help her out. Local families are also donating meals. You can sign up here:  Meal Train for Lennie Hartzog

Meanwhile, Tripp Walton is representing Hartzog. However, a civil suit is not filed yet. News 3 will keep you updated on this developing story.

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