A cab driver furious he was being forced to drive his fares from Midtown into the Bronx rammed two of them with his taxi, critically injuring one, seriously wounding the other and knocking a third to the ground before fleeing, authorities said Monday.
Mohammed Azam, 27, was charged with assault and leaving the scene of an accident, and was being held on $100,000 bail. He did not enter a plea at his arraignment Monday. His attorney, Joshua Benjamin, said Azam denies committing any crime.
Police said four men hailed Azam's cab at about 4 a.m. Sunday in Midtown Manhattan and asked to be taken to the Bronx after they got inside. Azam refused, according to prosecutors, saying it was too far away, the trip would make him late to turn in his taxi at its depot and he'd have to pay a $30 fee. It's a typical but illegal complaint by yellow cab drivers who often don't want to head into the outer boroughs because it's not worth the money to make the lengthy trip. But the men knew that once they were in the cab, the driver was required by law to take them to their destination _ and they got into an argument that culminated with the driver stopping at the Midtown police precinct, authorities said.
The four passengers and Azam went inside, where officers told the taxi driver he was required to take the fares where they wanted to go. As they left the precinct, one of the men decided to take another taxi, prosecutors said.
Azam told the other three to get into his car, but when one of them had his hand on a passenger door handle, the driver abruptly backed up, yanking the passenger and throwing him to the ground, prosecutors said.
Then he drove forward, ramming the other two, who were carried along on the car's hood for 30 yards before the car turned and they fell to the ground, prosecutors said.
Anthony Loreto, 22, was critically injured and was in a medically induced coma. Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Gregory SanGermano said doctors are not sure if he is going to live. Frank Lembo, who also was struck, was in stable condition. The third man suffered bruises but was not seriously injured.
Azam, who is married and is originally from Bangladesh, has been in the United States for 17 years and is a U.S. citizen, his attorney said. He is studying medicine while also driving a taxi.
"He's chasing the American dream. He's doing everything he can, as a hardworking immigrant ... to make a better life for himself," Benjamin said in court. "He is a person who does things by the book."
Azam's brother Mohammed Nobi told local media that his brother relayed a different version of the incident to him, telling him the men were driving in another car and got into an accident with Azam's cab.
Nobi told the Daily News of New York that his brother said they had reached an agreement to sort out damages among themselves but then the men went to the police.
"He has clean record. Never an accident. This is first time something like this," his brother told the newspaper.
Authorities had the cab's license plate number and contacted the taxi company and located Azam at his home in Queens. He was picked out of a lineup and arrested.
Associated Press Writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.