Taxi Terror : Drivers Haunted by Fears After Cabby Is Stabbed and Robbed

Times Staff Writer

Steven A. Turner lies in a bed in Mercy Hospital, another cabby victimized by a violent passenger.

He is expected to recover from the nine stab wounds inflicted by a robber in East San Diego Sunday morning, and his dad, Stewart Turner, thinks he may even return to driving a cab.

But, if the younger Turner, 40, does take another turn as a cabby, he will return to the streets with no more protection than he had early this week.

The problem is not so much the lack of technology--a partition separating passenger and driver could easily be installed in cabs, and many big-city cab companies require them. But cab owners here don't want to install the devices, which they view as costly--$200 to $600--and unattractive "cages," and the city says it won't require the partitions unless they are requested by a consensus of cab owners.

Sterner Warnings

Turner, who drives for Orange Cab, a local company that runs about 65 cabs on the day shift, is recovering after he was found bleeding from stab wounds in the chest, abdomen, neck and hands in the 4100 block of Highland Avenue, according to police. Authorities are now searching for his attacker, who fled with less than $100.

Although cab companies say they are giving sterner warnings to drivers to be careful, and many of Turner's colleagues say they are being slightly more cautious, most see this incident as one of many that are part of the daily life of the cab driver.

"You always feel that something might happen, you just have to be careful. It's part of the job," said, Mohsen Pour, 25, a driver for Orange Cab who is also working toward a college degree. Pour, who recalled that, two months ago, he also was attacked by a passenger who did not want to pay the fare, said he would like to see partitions in all the cabs. "I would be 100% for that," he said.

Just a few days before Turner was attacked and robbed, another Orange Cab driver was severely beaten by several men after taking them from San Diego to Los Angeles, said Mohammad Eslambolchi, vice president of Orange Cab.

Drivers are concerned and edgy, owners report, and some are even switching off the night shift or, like Robbie Davis, 45, who was once robbed, they are switching to what they consider to be a safer company with a 24-hour dispatch--someone there to receive a distress call like the one sent by Turner at 2 a.m.

Selective on Fares

"I love the business, meeting people and being my own boss," said Davis, who is also in favor of installing the partitions. Davis acknowledged being scared, but she said there is little she can do about it, since it would be tough to find another job.

Another frequent reaction among cabbies is to be more selective about whom they pick up. Some drivers at Yellow Cab Co. are demanding to know the destination of fares they are assigned by their dispatcher, according to Joe Ford, operations manager at the city's largest cab company. He said Yellow is bending the policy to give the drivers the information.

But, according to Patty Margetts, code compliance officer for San Diego police, drivers are prohibited by the Municipal Code from discriminating against a fare unless they are "a hazard to the driver or operator." Margetts agreed that the partitions would be a good idea, and there is nothing to prohibit them in the city code.

Ford said most of his about 700 drivers are in favor of the partitions, but he said his company won't install them because of city opposition and because it would separate passenger and driver, many of whom are regulars and have a good relationship. He also said that incidents such as the Sunday stabbing are uncommon and that the company is promoting safety in other ways--encouraging drivers to use caution and carry minimal cash, for example.

Recognizes Drawbacks

Michael Spadacini, president of Orange Cab and a driver for 45 years, said he recognizes the drawbacks of the partitions but would like to see them installed. But he said the 55 owners at his company would not favor the move because of the expense.

The city should require the partitions to protect drivers, said Bobby Still, 32, a full-time dispatcher for Orange. "They (city officials) don't want to ruin that image" of laid-back California, which could hurt San Diego's tourist industry.

Don Abel, assistant financial management director for the city, said the Paratransit staff will not recommend a study of the partitions in the city's approximately 930 taxicabs until the industry makes it clear that they see the partitions as desirable and useful.

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