A tearful Bronx student recounted the hellish night she said left her traumatized with a bruised face after she was attacked by an illegal livery taxi driver in the early hours of Monday morning.
“I just wanted to get home but it turned into a nightmare where I was never able to get to my house until the next day,” said Yaxis Capote at a Tuesday press conference held by the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers . She spoke on the sidewalk near the Bronx intersection where she said she was first picked up.
Leaving the Sofa nightclub in University Heights on Monday morning at 3 a.m., Capote said she hailed a cab on the corner of West Fordham Road and Cedar Avenue. In her junior year at Baruch College, the petite 24-year-old only wanted a night out. Like she had done many times before, she negotiated a fare with the driver, explaining that she only had $30 to get her home in Astoria, Queens. He agreed, and she directed him as they drove across the city.
“Once we got to the corner of my building, he wouldn’t unlock the door,” said Capote. “He said I owed him more money.”
The driver, identified later by police as Francisco Martinez, locked the windows and divider, Capote said. All he would say was that he was taking Capote back. He was charged with assault and harassment according to a spokesperson at the 114th police precinct, in Astoria.
“I had an extra fifty dollar bill in my pocket that belonged to my friend, Geraldine,” said Capote, her friend Geraldine Torrealba comforting her. “I offered it to him, but he wouldn’t take it.”
Capote said Martinez took a right onto Queens Boulevard, with her captive in the backseat of his black cab.
“That was the most terrifying moment of my life,” said Capote, her voice breaking. “I’ve never been held against my will anywhere.”
Capote said she tried not to panic, calling 911 on her mobile phone. The dispatcher instructed her to find the driver’s identity card that should be pasted up in the back of the cab. It was then that she discovered he was an illegal driver.
“The city is plagued with anywhere between eight and ten thousand illegal cab drivers that roam the streets picking up people,” said Fernando Mateo, spokesperson for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. “You don’t know whether these drivers are rapists, kidnappers, murderers or who they are.”
According to Mateo, the drivers union lobbied to have each legal cab fitted with the driver’s identity card and the passengers’ bill of rights. Any cab that does not have these cards visible to the passenger is considered illegal. He urged passengers to check for these two documents before allowing a cab to drive them.
As the 911 dispatcher tried to locate Capote, the driver realized that she was on her mobile phone. He became enraged, she said, abruptly pulling the car over near the 59th Street Bridge. With Capote still locked in the back, he opened the door on the right side, dragging her out by her pants, screaming “I’m going to kill you!”
Capote said she kicked and screamed as she tried to crawl to the left side to escape, but the driver pinned her down on the backseat and began to beat her.
“There was blood all over my face,” says Capote, pointing to her eye, still bloodied, with the flesh around it bruised purple. Her lip was also cut and still swollen.
An unnamed couple spotted the incident, and the man dragged the driver off Capote, pinning him down while the woman helped her escape.
“My grandmother passed away, and I feel it was her that sent them to help me,” said Capote of the couple she never had the chance to thank. Police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and accompanied Capote to Mount Sinai Hospital.
Manuel Nunez, a member of the Federation of Taxi Drivers, urged passengers to call dispatchers of private car services to arrange transport rather than hail a cab. He said that the commission was working to find a way to end illegal taxis, but that it was very difficult.
“There are a lot of drivers that work from 2 to 6 a.m. that are pirate,” said Nunez. “They don’t have licenses, and we don’t know what kind of person they are.”
Capote said she thought she was being responsible by taking a cab. She didn’t want to bother any of her friends for a ride. Now, she said she is too afraid to trust any cab driver or to go anywhere without a friend or family member.
For a safer ride, go to the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission’s Find A Ride directory.