Shot six times, taxi driver appeals to colleagues

Memories of a 2014 robbery incident at Hellshire in Portmore, St Catherine, that almost turned deadly for 65-year-old taxi operator Leon Powell came rushing back to him last Tuesday.

During a peaceful protest at the Naggo Head taxi stand in Portmore by taxi operators over the gruesome killing of their colleague, 70-year-old Minolal Edwards, during a robbery, Powell detailed to the Jamaica Observer how he managed to survive an attack from gunmen who shot him six times.

Powell, who plies the Naggo Head to Helshire route, has encouraged his fellow taxi operators to exercise vigilance at all times, whether or not they are transporting passengers. He expressed regret at the murder of Edwards, who was known to most persons as Butty. As he spoke to the Observer, the memories of his ordeal seven years ago played over and over in his head.

“Inna 2014, three bwoy tek mi weh a Hellshire during a trip. After mi let off everybody else, dem stick mi up at the Hellshire Beach roundabout. They wanted to carry me away dat night, but eventually mi come out. After that, dem shoot mi.

“Dem shot mi inna mi side and all bout. A six shot mi pick up. Di last shot mi get mek mi run off lef dem. Mi end up drop till mi affi crawl go inna di bush. When mi see seh dem gone wid di car, mi crawl come out inna di road. A man weh know mi a come from beach and see mi and mi seh to him seh, ‘Dem shoot mi and gone wid di car.’ A suh mi get saved,” Powell shared.

“They took from me a Toyota Corolla Wagon. Mi find back the car still. Mi nuh know dem man deh, suh we never get nuh leads,” he explained.

Powell added that he contemplated exiting the taxi business but said it became very clear that, that would not be his best option. Despite persons encouraging him to stay away, his personal responsibilities, such as utility bills, had to be taken care of. He has been braving the streets since then.

“Some people seh dem wouldn’t come back in the business, but mi affi mek a living because me have youth a go high school. Mi feel a way bout wah gwan wid Butty, but mi just a go through with the help of the Almighty,” Powell told the Observer.

President of the Transport Operator Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), Egeton Newman, expressed regret at the killing of Edwards and appealed to transport operators to know the space they operate in and the people who move around in it frequently. He encouraged operators to find the nearest police station or a crowded area if they become suspiscious of passengers. He said also that conversations are being had currently about fast-tracking a cashless system for taxi operators. Although there is a clear need for protection of taxi drivers, Newman said he would not recommend that taxi operators be given access to legal weapons.

“Edwards was a man well beknown to me. He was a close friend of the association in Portmore and he was an outstanding taxi operator in the Portmore area. He was a stalwart. Right now we are suffering as a sector. Twenty-five of our men who served this country through public transportation have been slain since early November of last year. It is a dark day for the sector. I think we should not even be having that conversation to ask taxi men to arm themselves because you don’t know who is who. We have thousands of law-abiding men and women in the sector but there is a few who we don’t even know and who cannot be trusted. I am talking about legal operators who cannot be trusted in the sector and that is why I think arming the sector is not a wise conversation to have at this time.

“We have a number of bus men with fleets of buses, they have their firearms. But when it comes on to the taxi sector, a one man with two or three taxis, I don’t think so unless he is a businessman outside of the taxi business. On Monday in New Kingston there were two legal taxi men fighting with machetes. It took a man with a firearm to part the fight.

“At this time when the social order of the country is below zero, if a taxi man who is going through so many social problems and can’t get a fare increase…to have a firearm and one of his colleagues try something, he may want to draw the firearm at one of his colleagues. Anybody who is going into the public transport sector and those in there already, one thing you must understand is that if you don’t know your space, your environs, especially in certain parishes, think twice about going into the transport sector,” Newman said.

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