Killings haven't unnerved city's unlicensed cabbies

`Hacks' say caution, set routes key to safety

October 10, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Unlicensed cabdrivers in Baltimore said yesterday they won't let the recent killings of several colleagues scare them off roads.

The men who were killed probably got careless or were so desperate for money that they picked up riders against their better judgment, said the drivers, known as "hacks."

"We're not what you would call 100 percent afraid, but I guess we're more or less what you'd call aware," said Erwin Downs, 42 of Woodlawn.

"You really got to be on your toes about who you pick up. I never pick up more than one fellow at a time," he said. "I never pick up the young boys, the ones with their pants hanging down. And certain women I don't pick up ... a lot of them set up the hacks" for robberies.

Hacks have operated in Baltimore and other major cities for decades. Despite police warnings about the dangers -- and the fact that six men thought to be hacks have been killed in Baltimore this year -- it's not hard to find someone offering a ride for a nominal fee.

Police said yesterday that hacking is extremely dangerous because drivers usually don't know the people they're picking up. Also, criminals feel hacks are easy targets because they are operating illegally and are less likely to report crimes.

"It's bad all the way around," said Col. Robert M. Stanton, who heads the Baltimore Police Department's criminal investigation division.

Some hacks travel the city streets looking for patrons. Others, like Downs, have specific locations from which they operate.

Downs, who has operated as a hack for more than 20 years, prefers to hang out at Mondawmin Mall, where elderly people and store employees always need rides.

So does another hack -- who would give his only last name, Williams.

"The people who are most vulnerable are those who pick up riders off the streets," Williams said. "You're more subject to foolishness off the street. When they're leaving from here, they usually got bags, or they're coming from work. When you get them off the street ... they're taking you to a drug area."

Williams, 50, said he doesn't think most hacks are scared, particularly not the ones who work out of certain areas.

Another driver who works from Northeast Market on Monument Street agreed.

"I screen my people before I even get them in the car," said the hack, who asked that his name not be used. He suggested killings occur "because people are picking up people from anywhere. I don't do nothing after 5 o'clock because it's getting dark, and by then I have my quota."

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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