Harford father of nine killed in apparent robbery in his taxi

Death stuns community

substitute teacher was 37

December 09, 2004|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

When he wasn't driving a taxi during the overnight shift, Derald Howard Guess was sitting in on his children's classes at Magnolia Elementary in Joppa. Or serving as a popular substitute teacher at the school. Or teaching Bible study classes to young teens at his church on Sundays.

Shortly after midnight yesterday, Guess went to pick up a passenger who had called for a taxi from an Edgewood townhouse community. Moments later the 37-year-old was fatally shot in a suspected robbery one block from where he lived with his wife and nine children, police said.

News of Guess' death spread quickly through Magnolia Elementary, which three of his children attend and where he had worked one day a week for the past three years as a substitute. Faculty and parents met after final classes to discuss bringing in counselors for students.

"They don't even realize the devastation they've caused," Kim Grimes, Magnolia's Parent-Teacher Association president, said of whoever killed Guess. "We know that crime is out there, but a father of nine who works two jobs. ... We're devastated for the children and the family."

Guess was a driver for United Sedan, said Edward Hopkins, Harford County sheriff's spokesman.

He was found shot in the head in a Plymouth Voyager that had crashed in the lawn of a townhouse in Harford Square, a residential enclave.

Police said the circumstances suggested a robbery, though they had no immediate suspects.

It appeared "purely coincidental" that Guess was killed so close to his home in the 600 block of Yorkshire Drive, Hopkins said, because the person who called the taxi company did not request Guess.

"It was a random assignment," Hopkins said.

Police have identified the person who called for the taxi but would not discuss details, Hopkins said. Guess was hired by United Sedan several months ago to work part time. Recently, Guess wanted to increase his hours and began working the night shift, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., five days a week, said Scott Hartz, a company manager.

"It's hard to believe that something like that happened," Hartz said, noting that Guess was studying to become a minister. "Nothing like this has ever happened."

Last year, 45 taxi drivers nationwide were killed, 37 of them fatally shot, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

United Sedan told police that Guess was dispatched to the neighborhood about 12:30 a.m.

Moments later, residents called 911 to report a car had crashed in front of a townhouse in the 1500 block of Harford Square Drive.

At least one resident reported seeing Guess' dark green Voyager go out of control, strike a parked blue pickup and then come to rest on a grassy area, police said.

Guess was pronounced dead at the scene.

A woman who answered at Guess' home said the family did not wish to comment.

Guess leaves behind nine children between the ages of 3 and 20, said Chris Dutruch, pastor of New Covenant Church of God in Bel Air, where Guess was a member the past three years.

Dutruch said he had recently accompanied Guess on numerous job interviews so Guess could get a better job to support his family.

"He was a very meek and humble individual, just very dedicated to his wife and his children," Dutruch said.

At Magnolia, where faculty members were notified of Guess' death by a Harford County schools e-mail, teachers were ordered to look out for distressed pupils who might need counseling, said Donald R. Morrison, the spokesman for Harford public schools.

Those at the school remembered how Guess would attend every school function involving parents, Morrison said.

"They were a very together family," said Grimes, a neighbor of Guess' for 15 years. "Their kids are very well-mannered, very happy kids."

In addition to three young children and three at Magnolia, Guess also leaves behind a son in college and two daughters in high school in Harford County, Grimes said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division at 410-836-5428 or the 24-hour tip line at 888-540-TIPS. A reward of up to $1,000 is offered for information leading to an arrest.

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