Andrew B. Kamara drove a taxicab for nearly a decade but gave up his job three months ago to concentrate on fixing and reselling cars, his passion.
But the 50-year-old father of six returned to his old trade last week to earn extra cash so he could visit his mother and other relatives in Sierra Leone. Early yesterday, D.C. police found Kamara fatally shot in the front seat of his taxi in Northwest Washington.
Police believe that Kamara was the victim of a robbery. His death might be connected to four other taxi robberies in upper Northwest in the past few weeks, police said.
Kamara's relatives said they are struggling to understand why someone would take the life of the taxi driver, whom they described as "the rock" of his family.
"We're going through a hard time," said Fatima Bangura, 50, one of Kamara's cousins. "This is someone who carried the family. One phone call, and he'd be there for you."
Police said they learned of the killing about 1:30 a.m. when officers were called to investigate an accident in the 6800 block of Ninth Street NW. Kamara's cab had crashed into several parked cars, and he was slumped over the steering wheel. He had been shot once in the head, police said.
Kamara, of Lanham, was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead.
A witness told police that he spotted a man running from the cab and gave officers a description of the person, said Cmdr. Hilton Burton of the 4th District.
A few minutes later, police questioned the manager of the Motel 6 in the 6700 block of Georgia Avenue NW, about two blocks away. The manager told police that he had just seen a man who matched the description from the witness dashing into a first-floor motel room, Burton said.
As police approached the room, the man jumped out a back window. He was seen throwing away a handgun, which officers recovered, police said.
The man, identified by police as Eric Gardner, 22, of the 900 block of Shepherd Street NW, was charged with illegal possession of a pistol. He was being processed yesterday at the D.C. jail, police said.
Investigators said they were awaiting results of ballistic tests on the handgun.
Meanwhile, family members of Kamara gathered to grieve at his house, on a quiet residential street in Lanham.
They said Kamara emigrated from Sierra Leone 17 years ago to find a better life in the United States. He has two grown children in Sierra Leone from a previous marriage. He has four children, ages 7 to 15, from his second marriage.
Relatives said Kamara was selfless, working to support his children. He regularly fixed friends' cars for no charge and gave stranded people free taxi rides, they said.
"He doesn't deserve to die this way," Bangura said.
Ibrahim Kamara, 51, who is also a cabdriver, said that he was a friend of Kamara's and that the two often discussed the dangers of their trade. "I was even telling him not to work at night," he said. But Andrew Kamara, who was not related to Ibrahim Kamara, countered that there was less traffic and fewer headaches during the night shift.
Vaughn G. Williams, president of Yellow Cab Co. on Bladensburg Road NE, said Kamara was dispatched to the 6600 block of First Street NW about 1:13 a.m. but never made it to the pickup.
"It's hard," Williams said. "It's hard for drivers because they know they perform an important service in the city, but it's one of the most dangerous occupations ever."
Kamara's killing was the first of two in upper Northwest yesterday morning. About 7 a.m., firefighters responded to a call about a man who appeared to be passed out on the sidewalk in the 4400 block of 14th Street NW, police said.
When they arrived, they found Vaughn Taylor, 24, dead at the scene. Taylor, of the 7500 block of Eastern Avenue NW, had a deep puncture wound in his chest.
Police said they were waiting for autopsy results to determine whether Taylor had been shot or stabbed.