After Three Violent Incidents, Cabbies Say Driving is a Dangerous Job

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A rash of violent incidents involving cab drivers in Maine has reminded cabbies of the hazards of the job.

On Sunday, a cab driver in the small town of Mexico was stabbed by a thief.

Then early Tuesday, a Portland driver was found shot to death. At almost the same time, another Portland driver narrowly escaped injury when police shot and killed a passenger brandishing a gun.

Word spread quickly among Portland's cab drivers.

"Oh yeah, it's dangerous," said Bill Cooper, an independent driver who said he's told his girlfriend to stop driving. "I stopped working nights because I got in two fights in the Old Port."

"You never know who's getting in the cab," he said.

Drivers for the various cab companies in the Portland area say they tend to know each other. Some said they knew Nunzi Mancini, the Portland driver whose body was found Tuesday after being shot to death in his cab in Pittsfield.

It is not uncommon, cabbies say, to be cursed out by passengers, to have their radios stolen or their trunks kicked in or to deal with fare jumpers.

But they say physical threats and actual violence are unusual.

That's what happened early Tuesday when Portland police shot and killed an armed robbery suspect after he allegedly pointed a gun to the head of ABC Taxi driver Anthony Valente.

Valente at one point wrestled with the passenger, then dove out of the cab to safety. He was not seriously injured.

In the western Maine town of Mexico, a cab driver was stabbed in the hand on Sunday. Police said the driver received the wound when he chased an assailant who grabbed the driver's money bag and ran.

"You've got to be careful, you've got to be street smart," said driver Jefferson Demell.

He said that, unlike some drivers, he does not carry a weapon to protect himself. Portland's taxis do not have plastic partitions to protect drivers, as there are in many larger cities.

"When I see odd-looking people, I try to stay away from them," Demell said. "Yes, from time to time I get nervous."

Drivers say that while the recent rash of incidents is just a strange coincidence, there has seemed to be an increase in violence in recent years.

"Portland's growing. Everything grows proportionately, including crime," said dispatcher Scott Huntoon.

Lt. Joseph Loughlin of the Portland police department said police receive plenty of calls from cab drivers reporting fare jumpers or drunk and belligerent passengers. Occasionally police receive reports of hold-ups.

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