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Livery cab driver shot to death in Jamaica

A little less than 36 hours after a livery cab driver was shot to death in Jamaica Saturday night, another driver was fatally stabbed in the Bronx and a Ridgewood driver was cut with a knife in a rash of attacks that ended a nearly yearlong respite in livery murders.

Gurdev Lal, 56, of 49-16 99th St. in Corona was shot twice and killed as he drove his cab along 102nd Avenue in Jamaica at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, police spokeswoman Detective Valerie St. Rose said.

At a news conference at the scene of the slaying in Jamaica Sunday afternoon, New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers President Fernando Mateo called on the City Council to enact further safety measures to prevent further cabbie deaths.

The suspect in Lal’s murder was described as a 6-foot tall black male with a slim build and dark complexion, St. Rose said. He was wearing dark clothing, and was thought to have fled along Liberty Avenue, where police dogs lost his scent.

Lal leaves behind a wife and three children in India, whom he supported by driving his cab. His body is being flown to India for funeral services.

A second livery cab driver lost his life the next evening when Jose Gutierrez was fatally stabbed by a passenger in the Bronx late Sunday.

At 5:15 a.m. Monday, an attacker slashed the hands and neck of a 25-year-old livery cab driver at 59-09 Norman St. in Ridgewood, police spokesman Officer Louis Cruz said. The driver was treated for minor injuries at the scene by EMS. His name was not released.

There was no indication the attacks were related.

Following the murders of 9 livery drivers in the first four months of 2000, the City Council allocated $5 million for the installation of bullet-proof partitions or security cameras in livery cabs.

Although the federation recommends that the partitions stay closed at all times, drivers often leave them open to speak with their passengers, Mateo said.

Lal “had what the law requires, which is a partition in the vehicle, but the window of the bulletproof glass was open and we believe that’s how he was shot,” Mateo said.

Lal’s slaying was the first cab-driver murder to occur since the safety measures were set in place.

Plans for a citywide vigil to observe a year without slayings and honor cabbies who had been murdered were canceled as a consequence of the shooting, Mateo said.

Jamaica residents said the livery cab swerved back and forth as it traveled west down 102nd Avenue toward the Van Wyck service road, banging into parked cars with its rear passenger door hanging open. They only heard gunshots toward the end of the car’s reckless passage down the street.

Neighbors speculated the attacker then jumped into the front seat to stop the car, which came to rest behind a truck as if it had been parked.

“I had come out to move my car and I saw across the street a lot of people standing around saying ‘Call the police!’” said Betty Ryan, who lives across the street from the spot where the car came to rest. “I said ‘What happened?’ and they said ‘A man’s been shot.’”

Mateo said Lal died “in vain” because the city failed to provide funding for every livery cab to be equipped with computer tracking chips, which a driver could activate by hitting a silent alarm.

“Most drivers that are robbed and assaulted know almost immediately as soon as a passenger enters the car,” Mateo said. “There’s a certain jitter the passenger has, a certain language he uses. When this happens the driver will have a silent alarm that will notify police literally within 3 seconds, and they will know where the car is.”

Installation of the chips in every cab would cost between $6 million and $8 million, with a maintenance fee of $15 per cab per month, Mateo said.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. (D-Astoria) responded by emphasizing that the Council has already “dramatically improved” the safety of drivers by installing the security dividers.

“If is unfortunate that he has chosen to use this tragedy to undermine the partnership that exists between the City Council and the entire livery cab community,” Vallone said. He said Mateo was aware the City Council would soon hold hearings on livery cab safety.

Mateo said 243 cab drivers had been murdered on the job in the past 10 years, an average of two deaths per month.

The Jamaica murder did not cause Mateo to change his stance that livery cab drivers should be permitted to pick up street hails, which only yellow cabs are allowed to do under current regulations. However, many complain that yellow cabs only service central Manhattan and fail to support the outer boroughs and poor minority communities.

“I believe it’s a constitutional right of inner city people to hail a cab just as people in Midtown Manhattan do,” he said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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