Assailant Targeting Cabdrivers In District

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2008

Jermal Ali, a Prince George's County cabdriver who had just dropped off a passenger, was driving on New Hampshire Avenue NW about midnight Feb. 22 when a big white sedan with black lettering on the side zoomed behind him and rammed the rear of his vehicle.

When Ali scrambled to get out of the cab, the other man deliberately steered in his direction, striking the driver's door, then drove off in the latest in a series of attacks against cabdrivers.

Since Jan. 27, six cabbies, all from Maryland, have been attacked in seven incidents in the city. According to police reports, the assailant has made remarks suggesting he targeted the drivers because he believes they illegally picked up passengers in the District, which is generally not permitted for cabdrivers not licensed by the city. The assaults have occurred on some of the District's major streets -- including two on Connecticut Avenue NW -- between 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., police said.

Police are still searching for the assailant, who they said has slashed vehicles' tires, broken mirrors and windows, and, in at least one case, physically harmed a driver.

In the first incident, at Phelps Place and California Street NW, the attacker slashed a cabdriver's tires and drove a half-block away, police said. He then put his vehicle in reverse and hit the driver "at a high rate of speed," causing him to be "lifted into the air," according to the police report. The cabbie suffered broken ribs, police said.

Montgomery County cabdriver Medhanie Weldegerish said that on Feb. 9, he was dropping off a customer in the 1300 block of Connecticut Avenue NW when a man pulled up in a car next to him and slashed two of his tires and put a knife with a three-inch blade against his chest.

"He never said a word to me. . . . Nothing," said Weldegerish, who has been driving a cab for 10 months. "I'm not scared, but maybe he's got a gun."

Later that night, another Prince George's cabdriver was sitting at a red light at 15th and L streets NW when a white Ford Crown Victoria pulled up behind him. A man jumped out and slashed the cab's right rear tire with a knife and then drove off, according to the police report. After the driver pulled over and began changing the tire, the attacker returned -- this time, slashing the left front tire.

"Why are you working here?" he asked the driver, who didn't respond.

D.C. police Cmdr. Andy Solberg said authorities have not determined whether the suspect is a vigilante D.C. taxi driver, as some victims suspect. But Solberg said the man's actions suggest he is not merely bearing a grudge but is "out of control."

"This is obviously very, very serious stuff," he said.

D.C. cabdrivers have a history of disputes with Maryland and Virginia drivers over the right to pick up passengers. By law, cabs from outside the city are allowed only to make prearranged trips into the District and are not supposed to pick up fares.

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