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NYC Cabbie Says He Was Trying to Help

The Associated Press
Monday, March 3, 2008; 8:54 AM

NEW YORK -- A livery cab driver initially hailed as a hero said he was just trying to do "the right thing" when he told a tale of finding a baby girl abandoned in his car.

Driver Klever Sailema was commended after he took the 6-month-old girl to a Queens firehouse Thursday and told authorities an unknown man had left her in his car and disappeared. But Sailema, who prosecutors say faces charges, said he lied to save the girl.

Under questioning by detectives, he admitted he knew the mother's family in the Bronx and had participated in the plan to abandon the baby.

"I feel bad, but ultimately I feel like I did the right thing," the Ecuadorean immigrant told the Daily News for Monday's editions. "My intentions were not to lie to the police."

Sailema was arraigned late Saturday on charges of falsely reporting an incident and criminal facilitation, prosecutors said. His girlfriend, Maria Siavichay, was arraigned on a charge of criminal facilitation.

A judge released Sailema and Siavichay, 21, without bail and ordered them to appear in court April 7.

The baby's 14-year-old mother probably would not be charged because of her age, police said. The baby's father, identified by police only as Siavichay's 27-year-old brother, was being sought. The baby has been placed in a foster home.

Sailema and Siavichay's lawyer, Kevin Faga, said the driver had "acted responsibly for the welfare of the child."

"These are good people, and this was a case of people doing their best to do what they thought was right for the child," he said. "Unfortunately, what they thought was right appears to be contrary to what the law allows."

A state safe haven law allows parents unable to care for newborns to leave them anonymously at hospitals, police stations or firehouses without risking prosecution, but it applies only to children up to 5 days old.

Sailema said he was asked to drop off the girl, Daniella, for the overwhelmed family at the firehouse because he was the only one in the country legally. He said Siavichay pleaded with him to drop off the girl. Finally, he said he relented.

"I was afraid the baby might end up abandoned in the bitter cold," Sailema told the News. "I knew the baby would be taken care of and be in good hands. There was nothing else to be done."

© 2008 The Associated Press