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Boys Steal Cab; Driver Is Shot

The youths, one believed to be as young as 11, hijack vehicle in San Bernardino after wounding the driver in the head and back.

October 15, 2003|Louis Sahagun and Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writers

A cab driver shot while being carjacked in San Bernardino by two youths -- one believed to be as young as 11 -- survived the attack and was hospitalized in stable condition Tuesday, authorities said.

The driver, Charles James Ferguson, 48, of Colton was being treated at Loma Linda University Medical Center for gunshot wounds to the back of his head and his back.

Neither Ferguson's cab nor the two youths -- one between the ages of 15 and 16 and the other 11 to 13 years old-- have been found, a San Bernardino police spokesman said.

Ferguson told officers that he picked up the youths about 9 p.m. Monday in the 300 block of West Baseline Street and was asked to drive around the city, said Officer Eric Grantley.

When Ferguson reached the 5700 block of North Osborne Court near Cal State San Bernardino, the passengers told him they had reached their home, Grantley said. But when Ferguson asked them for the fare, one of the boys shot Ferguson in the back of the head and then in the back, he said.

Ferguson got out of the cab to get help and the teenagers fled in the taxi. The cab is a yellow 1995 four-door Chevy Caprice, license number 6G30567. Owned by Yellow Cab Co., it has a tracking system, but it operates only when the cab's computer is switched on, police said.

Ferguson began working for the company in July. He is divorced and has a son in Florida, according to Chris Christman, general manager of the company that operates 85 cabs throughout the region.

Shootings are rare, but Christman said his drivers know violence is a part of the job.

"There is nothing you can tell your cab drivers," he said. "They are drivers and they know it is a dangerous business."

The shooting rekindled memories of the slayings of two Yellow Cab drivers in San Bernardino in February 2000. Javance Wilson, 29, of Victorville was convicted of the murders and the assault of a third cab driver. In August, he was sentenced to death.

Monday's shooting was the topic of conversation Tuesday among drivers waiting for customers at the Greyhound bus station just north of downtown San Bernardino.

"I feel scared," said driver Sergio Peredia, 52. "Eleven years of age is very young for someone to do a thing like this. On the other hand, we always pick up people and we don't know if they are armed or not."

Other cab drivers complained of a chronic problem: teenagers requesting rides and then dashing off into the night without paying.

"This is a dangerous job," said driver Jose Cervantes, 33. "Just 10 months ago I picked up a guy who stuck a gun in my back and said pull over. Instead, I stepped on the gas and yelled 'Well, we are going to die together.' Then I slammed on the brakes. He jumped out and ran, saying 'You're crazy man.' "

Cervantes said he knew Ferguson, who is new to California and had asked others if taxi-driving was a good job.

A 1996 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ranked taxi-driving as the job with the highest rate of work-related homicides.

After a series of shootings, Los Angeles adopted a requirement in 1993 that taxis install bulletproof safety shields between the front and rear seats. The number of assaults and robberies of cab drivers has declined in Los Angeles, city officials said. San Bernardino does not require such a safety shield, but city officials said taxi regulations are being updated.

Christman doesn't believe the safety shields are a deterrent. "Those shields are not going to save anyone," he said. "Things happen, you know that."

San Bernardino police urge anyone with information on the case to call (909) 384-5742.

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