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Uber passenger recalls ride with Sayfullo Saipov days before NYC attack

Saipov passenger speaks out

NEW YORK -- Damian Erskine, a 34-year-old British graphic designer, came to the United States with his girlfriend last weekend to attend a friend's wedding in New York. Little did the couple know that the Uber they ordered Oct. 26 from Newark International Airport would be driven by Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov -- the man who is now facing federal terrorism charges for killing at least eight people with a rented pickup truck in lower Manhattan on Halloween.

Saipov was registered as a driver for both Uber and Lyft.

Erskine described Saipov as "very friendly" and "a perfectly normal guy." He said Saipov took the bags from Erskine's girlfriend (who declined to be interviewed) loaded them up and offered them water as they entered a white Toyota minivan -- the same vehicle authorities would later find at a Home Depot in New Jersey, where the truck for the attack was rented.

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A look at Saipov and the Uber route he took for Erskine and his girlfriend. CBS News

Saipov was chatty during the ride, which lasted more than an hour on the way to Rockaway in New Jersey. He talked about real estate prices in Manhattan versus London and spoke admiringly about Range Rovers, saying he hoped to own one someday, Erskine recalled. Saipov disclosed that he was also a truck driver and mentioned a trip where he drove from New Jersey to California.

Erskine thought he seemed "totally, totally normal."

"You get a vibe from someone ... there was certainly nothing that would give you any sense of obviously what was to come," Erskine said.

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Damian Erskine CBS News

Erskine says Saipov didn't mention religion or politics during the car ride and that he wasn't critical of the United States in any way. They didn't talk about where Saipov was from or how long he had lived in America. Erskine thought Saipov spoke very good English with not much of an accent.

The couple returned to the U.K. on the morning of Oct. 31 -- the same day as the deadly rampage in lower Manhattan

"The day we landed was weird because we just landed and saw the news of what happened in lower Manhattan ... and so we think, yeah we were there. We were by the World Trade Center," Erskine said. "It's a really weird feeling."

It wasn't until Wednesday, after watching coverage on BBC News, that Erskine began to piece together the realization that he'd spent an hour in a car with the suspect. He checked his Uber receipt and confirmed the name was a match. He says he contacted U.S. authorities in Britain and reported his experience to investigators.

He remains shaken by the close encounter with a man authorities say bragged about killing people in the name of ISIS.

"When people talk about radicalization and that kind of thing ... it's that ability to live a normal life, when how much is an act," Erskine said. "But what is it that makes that transition from being the friendly polite person to being the murderer? That transition should be the focus."

Erskine said that he physically felt sick after learning of the attack that left two Americans, five Argentines and a Belgian dead.

"Just repulsion really," Erskine said. "You think, was there anything you thought might have been a flag? I know there wasn't. That's the worst part ... you almost wish there had been because you could have made a phone call. You could have done whatever."

"I could spend the next week dwelling on the 'what ifs' and 'hows,'" he said. "It isn't going to change anything."

Watch a portion of Erskine's interview with CBS News' Charlie D'Agata in the video player above.

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