Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Taxing nights behind the wheel

From the Queen's Journal:

Kingston taxi driver Mordeen Bondett opens up about her nights on the road

By Terra-Ann Arnone, Features Editor

Mordeen Bondett said her worst experience as a Kingston taxi driver was with a Queen’s student last year.

"He told me that I was just a servant," the seven-year Amey’s taxi veteran said. "He told me that he judged a person by what they did for a living and what I did for a living wasn’t respectable."

The mother of two teared up and turned away from me as she spoke.

"Maybe I shouldn’t talk about this," she said. "All I’ll say is that at that time, two of our drivers had PhDs."

Bondett, who works the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, let me ride along with her on Saturday night.

Her car had a surveillance camera installed on the windshield five years ago after studies in Winnipeg and Chicago found that video surveillance was the most successful method for taxi driver protection.

The cameras, which run about $1,700 each, take a picture of customers as they step in the cab and will record video if the driver touches an emergency button beside the steering wheel.

"I was personally against this in the beginning," she said. "I didn’t want my children to see me attacked or killed on camera."

Her outlook changed after a night-time encounter with two men.

"One was wearing a zip-up black sweater in the middle of summer and it tipped me off that something might be wrong," she said.

Bondett watched in the rear-view mirror as the man unzipped his sweater and reached into the breast pocket.

Before she could turn the camera on, the other man said, "I don’t want to do anything that will land me back in jail."

The customers asked Bondett to stop the car, paid their fare and left.

"Now I’m glad we have the cameras because our customers are aware of them and behave differently," Bondett said.

When the emergency button is pressed and the surveillance camera is activated, a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracks the driver’s whereabouts and sends all available taxis to their aid.

She said people are often concerned about a woman driving alone at night.

"You can be afraid of the daylight too," Bondett said.

In 2007, Amey’s driver David Krick was stabbed to death inside his cab at 7 a.m.

"I can’t begin to imagine," she said. "I just have to keep myself strong and alert."

Taxi fares are standardized by the Kingston Taxi Commission, with current rates at $2.85 for the first 77 metres of travel and $0.10 for every 77 metres after that.

Amey’s taxi owns 20 per cent of their fleet, with the remaining cars owned privately by drivers. Bondett doesn’t own the cab she drives.

Drivers who don’t own their own cars make 42 per cent commission off fares. Cab owners bring 100 per cent of fare money home.

"Many students don’t realize that a good portion of our income depends on tips," she said. "Some of the drivers resent the fact that students don’t tip as well."

Bondett averages $2 to $5 in tips per ride.

"I find that most students are friendly, polite and grateful," she said. "But occasionally you have students who forget we’re human beings too."

Bondett keeps plastic bags, bandaids, Kleenex and gum in her car for customers.

"I stock up on plastic bags during Frosh Week and Homecoming," she said. "That’s when most people vomit."

When someone vomits in a cab, a driver can clean it themselves and continue with their shift or send it in for cleaning and forego a night’s wages. Clean-up incurs an $80 charge for the passenger.

"I’m impressed with students who bring their own plastic bags," Bondett said.

The Kleenex is mainly for students coming back from the train station after a holiday at home, Bondett said.

"I can go through a number of Kleenex boxes, especially after Thanksgiving," she said. "That’s when all the breakups happen."

Bondett said she’s noticed differences between Queen’s students and students from Royal Military College and St. Lawrence College.

"I find the university students, maybe because they’re here longer, feel like the city is more their’s," she said. "Whereas the college students are here for shorter periods and act more like guests.

"I always try to treat customers the way I would want my children treated," she said.

Bondett is asked frequently if she is an ex-convict by students during Frosh Week.

"It’s a rumour that runs rampant," she said. "There is no taxi driver in Kingston that is an ex-con."

The Kingston Taxi Commission mandates that all drivers undergo a criminal record check through the Canadian Police Information Centre.

Bondett works a 12-hour shift five times a week.

"I do it so that I can eat," she said. "But if you’re out here for 12 hours at a time, enjoying your job really helps — and I do."

Having a bad night — usually one involving vomit, an unpaid fare or mistreatment — can take a toll on drivers, Bondett said.

"One bad customer takes two [good customers] to erase it from your mind," she said. "One to show you that they’re not all bad and another to wash away the hurt."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Man not responsible for stabbing cab driver

From the Kingston Whig-Standard Online:

A 25-year-old man, who stabbed an Amey's cab driver for no apparent reason in November 2009 and then stole his taxi, has been declared not criminally responsible for his crimes by reason of mental illness.

Timothy L. McGonegal was arraigned in Kingston's Ontario Court of Justice Monday on charges of attempted murder, stealing a car while armed with a knife, dangerous driving and violating probation by failing to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.

Defence lawyer Dave Crowe entered pleas of not guilty on McGonegal's behalf on the basis that he could not be held criminally responsible for his actions.

Assistant Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis then tendered the video statement that McGonegal gave to police after his arrest and invited Justice Rommel Masse to make a finding that he did commit the acts that gave rise to the charges. A short hearing followed to determine whether McGonegal could be held criminally responsible for his actions. Masse ultimately concluded he couldn't.

Laarhuis told the judge that following the Nov. 4, 2009, attack, a Kingston Police detective broached the subject of counselling with cab driver John Barnes, the stabbing victim. Barnes said he was aware of the dangers inherent to his occupation, the prosecutor told the court, and said he was going back to work.

He just wanted to know why he was stabbed, Laarhuis told the judge, because he said it was so unnecessary.

"Sadly," Laarhuis disclosed, Barnes died early in January from cancer.

The morning he crossed paths with McGonegal, the prosecutor related, Barnes was parked on the Kingston Centre lot waiting for a fare. Laarhuis told the judge that McGonegal showed up at 3:10 a.m., headed directly to Barnes's cab, leaned in and asked if Barnes could drive him to Napanee.

The cab driver agreed. Mc-Gonegal got into the front passenger seat and Barnes called his dispatcher for the flat rate -- $65. Then, after the cab had pulled out, McGonegal asked Barnes if he accepted debit.

Laarhuis said it's company policy to get the money up front, so Barnes pulled onto another lot at Princess and Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard, but as he reached for the debit machine, McGonegal plunged a knife into the centre of his chest without warning.

Masse was told the blade went in about an inch, but Laarhuis said the doctors who treated him believe it failed to penetrate Barnes's heart because the blade was deflected by his sternum.

Laarhuis said Barnes started to tell McGonegal that he'd just begun his shift and had no money, at the same time reaching for the door handle to escape, but his hand slipped.

According to the prosecutor, McGonegal responded by pushing harder on the knife, which at that point was still embedded in Barnes's chest. He ordered the cab driver to get out of his cab.

Laarhuis said Barnes later recalled that he half stepped and half stumbled out the driver's side door and found himself standing at the rear of his cab watching McGonegal slide across the seat and get behind the wheel. Mc-Gonegal then sped north on Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard and Barnes used his cellphone to call his dispatcher for help.

Not long after that, police found the taxi in a ditch off the west-bound ramp to Hwy. 401. McGonegal was on foot, about 300 metres west of the abandoned cab, walking along the south side of the highway.

Laarhuis said Kingston Police questioned him after his arrest and McGonegal told them where he'd thrown the knife out the cab's window after the stabbing. Masse was told that a blue and silver folding knife with a 3 1/2-inch blade was later recovered.

That information came in one of the rare moments, however, when McGonegal was both responsive and relatively lucid.

When he was subsequently in-t erviewed, Laarhuis told the judge McGonegal talked about secret societies, his need to get in touch with his "heritage" as a member of a race apart from the rest of us, and "vampires of Ohio" among other themes.

McGonegal even declared, at one point, that "the universe needs dead bodies ... strung across the universe" to protect the earth from the effects of a thinning ozone layer. He suggested the human shield effect could best be accomplished by people swallowing TNT.

When his police interviewer asked him if his victim was a selection or random, McGonegal replied, "honestly ma'am, just happened to be the unfortunate one," and when she invited him to describe what happened between him and the cab driver, he told her "I broke," but he quickly went on to claim he was a Hells Angel and made a series of cryptic and seemingly random remarks.

Later in the interview, Mc-Gonegal compared himself to the fictional villain Hannibal Lecter and claimed to be a cannibal. He then went on to complain about being tortured and about having a chip implanted somewhere in his body that controlled his behaviour.

Laarhuis told the judge Mc-Gonegal has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and added that "he's had very active symptoms" since about May 2009.

Consequently, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Hucker was asked by the Crown attorney's office to conduct a psychiatric evaluation for the court. It was Dave Crowe who called the doctor to the witness stand, however, and under questioning by him, Hucker testified that when he met Mc-Gonegal at Providence Continuing Care last November, what struck him was "a very prominent thought disorder," characterized by disorganized ideas and individual words imbued with special potency or underlying meanings unique to McGonegal.

The doctor said there's also a medical history, provided primarily by the man's father, of his deterioration through 2009, "but I think he's been ill a lot longer than that," Hucker told the court.

He also calculated that by the time he interviewed McGonegal, nine months had passed since the court ordered that he receive treatment. He was on anti-psychotic drugs, Hucker said, but he saw little improvement and told the judge, "he has shown no insight into his illness."

"What we're getting now are variations on why he did what he did," he told the judge. "He's drawing on his delusions for explanations."

Hucker said he had no doubts McGonegal was delusional when he stabbed a complete stranger.


Copyright © 2011 The Whig Standard

March 2011

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