The taxicab that Esayas Alazar rented was supposed to have been disabled, but on Friday night he drove it to his death.
The 50-year-old Eritrean native was shot as he left a convenience store in the 4900 block of South Dakota Avenue NE about 9:30 p.m., D.C. police said.
Alazar was leaving the Four Seasons delicatessen and convenience store and headed to his 1997 Ford Crown Victoria, which he had parked outside, when two men approached him, according to police spokesman Joe Gentile. After a struggle, the cabdriver was hit by one shot in the chest. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center and died 30 minutes later, Gentile said.
Police did not release Alazar's name pending notification of next of kin, but the cab's owner, reached on his cell phone in Chicago, said he matched the cab's identifying number to Alazar.
"He is my countryman. He is from Eritrea," said Mengestab Ghebreginsae, whose company owns about 16 cabs that operate as part of the Five Star Cab Association in Washington. Alazar had been renting the cab since September and paid his rent regularly until recently, Ghebreginsae said. He said he saw him frequently: "I know him for a very long time," he said. "It's very sad."
Around the beginning of the year, the cab owner said, Alazar dropped out of sight and fell behind in his cab payments. Ghebreginsae said Alazar owed him $320 for two weeks' rental.
The cab owner said that about two weeks ago, he drove to Alazar's apartment, in the 1400 block of Somerset Place NW, and took matters into his own hands, disabling the car.
"I took the fuses out . . . the fuel pump and ignition fuses," Ghebreginsae said. He also found out that the cab had been in an accident that Alazar failed to tell him about. The two men talked on the telephone, he recalled, and Alazar promised to pay what he owed, but did not.
Ghebreginsae said that was the last he heard from Alazar.
Somehow, Alazar managed to get the taxi working and ended up at the convenience store Friday night.
A store surveillance tape shows Alazar entering about 9:17 p.m., according to D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who viewed the tape yesterday with the store owner. On the tape, Alazar can be seen exchanging words with someone outside just before entering the store, Orange said. The tape has no audio.
"When he came in the store, you can see a figure standing in the corner, like he was waiting," Orange said. Alazar played a D.C. Lottery instant scratch game, then left the store after a few minutes.
At that point in the surveillance tape, Orange said, "I thought I saw a white flash, and then a person running."
Orange said he became involved because the shooting took place in his ward and the store owner called him. The council member said he was concerned that police did not retrieve the surveillance video immediately after the shooting.
Capt. C.V. Morris said police were unable to get the tape Friday night because the store employee on duty did not have access to it. He said police retrieved it yesterday.
Morris also said anyone who handles such tapes or views them automatically becomes a witness and could be called to testify before a grand jury investigating the matter.