Fatal cab driver shooting raises safety questions

WASHINGTON – Plans to improve D.C. cab driver safety, like cash-free payments and panic buttons, are receiving renewed attention after a driver was shot and killed in Adams Morgan earlier this week.

District officials pledged to take steps to better protect cabbies and the public Wednesday at a cab safety public round table that had been planned even before the fatal shooting.

“This is a heck of a warning bell that we’ve gotten right now,” D.C. Councilman Jim Graham said of Tuesday’s shooting. “It is a dangerous job. So the question for us as the government of the District of Columbia is to say, ‘How can we make this less dangerous’?”

Other cities require a protective barrier between drivers and passengers. The use of credit cards instead of cash can also be a deterrent to robbery.

“Had we been successful (in) achieving the cashless payment system that we had put forth a year ago, it would have included in the vehicles a safety device which is generally called by the media a panic button,” says Ron Linton, who heads the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

Even if such safety measures had been in place, Linton says it’s not clear if it would have made a lifesaving difference in the Adams Morgan shooting. The safety device is still in future plans for D.C. cabs.

“I don’t think we can afford to continue to do as little as we’re doing about driver safety,” Graham says.

Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, organized the roundtable to discuss the implementation of a new taxi law approved last year.

The law requires taxis to accept credit cards, install passenger and driver safety devices, and adopt a uniform color, among other changes.

Cheh wanted to determine the extent of safety problems and to hear ideas to address violence, assaults and harassments in D.C. cabs, both to drivers and riders. But driver safety was the primary topic of discussion.

Solomon J. Okoroh, 57, of Lanham, Md., was shot inside his cab along Ontario Road NW after he was robbed by two passengers early Tuesday morning. Two men fled on foot but were quickly caught by police.

Ercell Overton, 32 of Northwest D.C., is charged with Okoroh’s murder along with burglary and assaulting a police officer. Police arrested the second man, Joshua King, 24 of Hyattsville, Md., on an unrelated charge of violating probation.

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WTOP’s Andrew Mollenbeck and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report. Follow @mollenbeckWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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