Cabbie Cries No Fare After Long Ride

Times Staff Writer

A transient with 3 cents in his pocket took a Los Angeles cabbie for a $204 ride and wound up somewhere he probably never intended to be: jail.

Mike Grogan, 38, a cab driver for 14 years, said he had "dollar signs in my eyes" one Monday morning when he picked up a nicely dressed, elderly man at a gas station in Glendale. The man, later identified as 63-year-old George Otis Nelson Jr., said he wanted a ride to his bank in Anaheim to cash a check for $1,800.

But the Anaheim bank refused to cash the check, so Nelson asked Grogan to drive him to a Costa Mesa bank branch. When the second bank also balked, Grogan said, he demanded a look at the check.

"The guy had told me his name was George Nelson," Grogan said. "So when I saw the check was written out to some guy with a Spanish surname, that's when I said to myself, 'Uh-oh, I'm going to eat this one.' "

But, Grogan explained, "I've had stranger things happen--I've taken fares that would have me drive them around and around and I'd start thinking I was never going to get paid. But then I would. So I had gone this far with the guy, I figured I might as well see where it leads."

It led to another try in Anaheim and then to a nearby truck stop where the obliging cabbie bought the man the breakfast special and a pack of cigarettes. With the meter still running, Nelson directed Grogan to a post office in Pasadena, where Nelson said he had a government check waiting for him, and then to a Glendale antique shop, where Nelson said he had $20,000 in gems being polished. Still nothing, Grogan said.

After five hours and nearly 100 miles, the trip ended at a Glendale Federal Savings & Loan Assn. branch on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, where Nelson disappeared into the bathroom with the check.

"I knew something was funny when he was in there about 10 minutes and I heard the toilet flush 20 to 30 times," Grogan said.

Glendale police were called to the scene, where they arrested Nelson, described by police as a transient, on suspicion of petty theft. After a few hours in Glendale City Jail, he was released on his own recognizance, even though he had no address.

Informed of this, Grogan said: "I know I'll never see any of my money."

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