WILKES-BARRE — The deadly shooting of a Scranton cabbie on Friday weighs heavy on the minds of local taxi drivers.
“I think about it every night I go out there,” Burgit City Taxi driver Dennis Eaton of Edwardsville said of the Lackawanna County shooting.
Sixteen-year-old Aazis Richardson was charged with murder on Friday night, hours after police said he shot 47-year-old Vincent Darbenzio twice in the head. The cab driver’s body was found in his vehicle shortly before 5 a.m. near the entrance to a Scranton housing complex.
Richardson allegedly told police he got upset because Darbenzio “was taking the long way and ripping him off.” Richardson told investigators the driver kept taking a longer route even after being told shortcuts, according to a criminal complaint.
“I don’t understand where people get off thinking that because someone doesn’t follow directions, that they can be shot,” said Eaton, who has been driving a cab off and on since the 1980s.
Although the shooting is fresh in Eaton’s mind, the cameras that his boss had installed in all company cabs last year make him feel safer.
“I think it’s a good idea to have the cameras. With everything that’s going on, it makes you feel a lot more secure,” he said.
Williamsport cabbie also shot
A Billtown Cab driver from Williamsport who was waiting for a fare he took to an appointment on South Main Street this afternoon noted that a driver from his company was shot by a robber on May 15.
“He gave him the money and he still shot him,” said the driver, who would only provide his first name, Lee.
Williamsport police charged Dante Jamile Washington in the shooting of Billtown Cab driver Eugene Phillips.
The Billtown cabbie in Wilkes-Barre today said Billtown cabs don’t have cameras, but some Billtown drivers think they should.
Robberies led to cameras
Robbie Burgit, owner of Burgit City Taxi Co. on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, made the decision last year to install cameras in all of his company’s 20 cabs by the end of 2013 after four of his drivers were robbed within a 42-day span.
“The cameras are the answer, or the best answer you can come up with. Nothing’s foolproof,” Burgit said this afternoon. “They can’t stop a bullet, but they can certainly put someone in prison.”
Burgit said the cameras relay 20 images per second to a satellite and are recorded.
“No matter how fast someone gets into a cab, the camera gets a close-up. How do you beat that? You don’t,” Burgit said.
Burgit City Taxi has been the only cab company operating in the Wilkes-Barre area since Posten Taxi closed in June 2013.
“All bad guys need to be put on notice. I will prosecute anyone and everyone who threatens or hurts one of my drivers,” he said.
Strobe light notifies police
Burgit said he considered installing bulletproof shields between the front and back seats, but they wouldn’t fit and still allow for adequate leg room in his cabs, he said. He uses Kia Soul vehicles exclusively.
He did, however, also install an alert light system in his cabs. All a driver need do is push a button on the dashboard to engage a yellow strobe light on the roof of any Burgit cab. Burgit said he notified police departments in 57 municipalities or state police barracks of the alert light system and it has been used once when a customer didn’t want to pay.
“Edwardsville police pulled the guy over and made the guy pay. That officer must have had eagle eyes to notice the strobe light in the daylight,” Burgit said.
Other than that incident, Burgit said, his drivers have had no robberies since the camera system was installed.
Suspect’s comments anger Burgit
Burgit said Brian McCarthy, who owns McCarthy Flowered Cabs in Scranton, just today asked him for information on the camera system. Darbenzio was one of McCarthy’s drivers.
The McCarthy family also owns McCarthy Flowers, with locations on East South Street and on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre.
“Our hearts go out to the slain drivers, and to McCarthy’s,” Burgit said.
Burgit was angered when he heard about Richardson’s comments to the media while in police custody. Richardson told reporters he had killed the driver because he wouldn’t take his preferred route. Asked if being ripped off was reason to kill someone, Richardson replied, “To me, it is.”
“The comments of this guy are just outrageous. He’s lucky we don’t live by ‘an eye for an eye,’” Burgit said.
Burgit driver/dispatcher Shawn Howell, 43, of Wilkes-Barre, called the shooting “unbelievable. How does someone do that?”
Like Eaton, Howell isn’t fearful about his job. “We got those cameras. They’re a big deterrent,” he said.
“Some people get in the cab, see the camera and ask, ‘What is that?’ (I say) it’s a camera. And then they get right back out,” Howell said.