A District taxicab driver remained in critical condition at Georgetown University Hospital yesterday after being shot once in the head Monday night, police said.
Family members and co-workers identified the driver as John Olukayode Phillips, 48, of the 7600 block of Fontainebleau Drive, in New Carrollton. He was critically wounded about 11:30 p.m. Monday at 44th and P streets NW, just off Foxhall Road and less than a quarter of a mile from the Georgetown University campus, police said.
Police said Phillips, who his wife said lost a finger in the attack, managed to continue driving for a block and a half after being shot, but came to a stop after striking several vehicles. Police are trying to determine a motive for the shooting. They have not ruled out robbery, although money apparently was not taken from the taxicab, a police official said.
The shooting stunned members of the city's taxicab industry, who say they realize the possibility of violence to drivers, especially those who work late hours.
Some cabdrivers, many of them immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, often do not report robberies, partly because they do not have much confidence in police, said Shahid Qureshi, owner of Fairway Cab Association. Phillips worked for Fairway before switching to another taxi company earlier this year.
"Drivers don't report it, they just keep on working," Qureshi said. "If they don't get shot, they don't report it. Phillips was a member of Qureshi's taxicab association and leased a 1985 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon until this year, when he purchased the vehicle and left to join Highland Cab Association. Phillips "was friendly, always smiling, laughing," and still came to Fairway to have his cab repaired, sometimes on credit, Qureshi said.
Drivers agree to make repairs at one association's garage, and also pay a small franchise fee, in exchange for using the association's name, said Balwinder Singh, owner of Highland Cab Association. "We've been having robberies here and there, but nothing to this extent," Singh said. Singh said he could recall only four armed robberies of drivers in his eight years as the association's owner.
For many drivers, the job is a way to raise money to support families both here and abroad. Phillips regularly sent money home to his mother in Nigeria, Qureshi said. "Most of the guys have families back home, they have families here," Qureshi said. "That's the way John was."
Phillips's wife, Elizabeth Omoyeni Phillips, said her husband has been driving a cab for about 20 years. The couple, who met in Nigeria, came to North America from Lagos, where Phillips was an income-tax clerk, his wife said. Phillips immigrated to Canada in 1973; his wife followed him a year laterm and their family settled permanently in the United States in 1986.
Phillips was studying part time at the University of the District of Columbia for a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, his wife said. He usually went each afternoon from school to work, and often drove until 2 in the morning, she said.
On average, he worked 12 hours a day, she said, adding that she did not believe he had been robbed before. "I always think it's a high-risk job, but that's what he wants to do," said Elizabeth Phillips, who works as a registered nurse. "I guess he can't find anything better."
The couple have three daughters, ages 24, 21 and 10, and a 12-year-old son, Elizabeth Phillips said.
Cabdrivers "are not getting the proper protection," said Sandra Seegars, a Ward 8 activist who has been nominated by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
The commission's interim chairman, George Crawford, said the commission is considering creating a global position tracking system that would enable officials to track where cabs are, and allow drivers to send distress signals if they are in danger. Right now, "there's no centralized system," Crawford said.