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Two Men Rob Woman Cabbie, Set Her Afire

Times Staff Writer

A newly hired woman cabbie for a Gardena taxi company was robbed, doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire by two men who stole her cab and drove away early Thursday, authorities said.

The driver, Mary Clarke, 45, was reported in “critical but stable condition” in the burn unit of Torrance Memorial Hospital Medical Center with second- and third-degree burns to her upper body and face.

“The act is so cruel and dreadful I can’t imagine anyone doing it,” said Tooraj Moradi, vice president of the AM-PM Taxi Co. at 15321 S. Figueroa St. “Not in the U.S. How could anyone . . . try to burn her alive. That’s really beyond any human comprehension.”

The sobbing driver telephoned the cab company dispatcher about 4 a.m., according to Moradi, and reported that she had been burned. Another cabbie was sent to her aid, arriving just before deputies summoned by residents in the Hawthorne neighborhood.

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Investigators said a woman resident heard Clarke’s cries, looked out a window and saw her smoldering clothes and dialed 911.

Clarke had driven for the newly formed, 18-cab AM-PM firm for about a month, according to Moradi. Before that, he said, she had worked for two other Los Angeles taxi firms for a total of about three years. He said Clarke has a daughter, about 21, and is divorced.

“She preferred to drive at night because she thought she could make more money,” Moradi said.

Sgt. Don Neureither of the Lennox sheriff’s substation said Clarke picked up two men in Gardena who made her sit between them while they drove the cab to 118th Street and Felton Avenue.

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“Once they had arrived, they pushed her out of the cab,” Neureither said. “They had poured a flammable liquid over her head, and they ignited it.”

Her attackers were described as two black men in their late 20s or early 30s: one about 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds and wearing dark clothing and a dark baseball cap and the other about 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds with a red baseball cap and a goatee.

“This is not the common type of robbery,” Neureither said. “Generally, suspects will rob cab drivers and release them. This is an unusual situation. Extremely cruel.”

The fire-damaged cab was later found near the taxi company.

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Indications were that Clarke had been specially chosen for the attack.

At about 3:14 a.m., according to Moradi, a caller, who identified himself as “Robert,” ordered a cab from the dispatcher and asked, “Can I have Mary?” Moradi said the customer was the same person Clarke had driven without incident on a round trip earlier in the morning.

As a matter of company policy, Moradi said, Clarke would not have answered the call if “Robert” had insisted on her as his driver. But, since he did not insist, he said, Clarke responded.

“At about 3:50 a.m., a half-hour more or less, she called,” Moradi said. “She was crying, and she told the dispatcher she was burned.”

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While she sobbed for aid, Moradi said, Clarke was also calling to neighbors who had called authorities, “Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.” Frank Filosa, president of the Taxi Industry Council and the United Independent Taxi Assn. of Los Angeles, said later that he felt the industry is prepared to join AM-PM in efforts to assist Clarke.

“This sounds like something extremely sadistic,” Filosa said.

Filosa estimated that there are probably fewer than two dozen women cabbies in the county.


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