Drivers' argument led to killing

Cabdriver fatally shot after tossing coffee, police say

June 07, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,sun reporter

Ghulam Mustafa had picked up his 11th dispatched taxi call of the day -- a blind passenger who needed a ride from Woodlawn to his home in Northeast Baltimore.

But another long and busy day on the streets of Baltimore for Mustafa -- a 33-year-old immigrant from Pakistan -- was cut short in a deadly encounter Tuesday night in what police characterize as a road rage incident. While traveling east in the 100 block of W. 28th St. in Charles Village, Mustafa and the driver of a dark-colored car got into a heated argument.

Mustafa tossed a cup of coffee at the driver, who pulled a gun and fired at the cabdriver, striking him once fatally in the head, according to a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The blind passenger, whose name was withheld by police, was not injured in the attack. Authorities said the passenger has provided valuable information to investigators about the final moments that led to Mustafa's death.

Police detectives believe the confrontation began when a vehicle first tried to make an illegal left turn onto Maryland Avenue, which is a one-way street, and then tried to merge back into eastbound traffic on 28th Street, authorities said.

Investigators believe there was more than one person in the car, and police are seeking the public's help, a police spokesman said.

The driver's wife, Robyn Vullo Mustafa, 36, has been in Florida caring for her ailing mother. In a telephone interview yesterday, Mustafa said that soon after she learned of her husband's death yesterday, she went to church and prayed for him and his attacker.

"I'm very torn about the person who did this because not only did they take my husband and my child's father, but robbed us of our home and our sole earning of a living," said Mustafa, who is not working to raise their 5-year-old daughter.

Last week, Ghulam Mustafa had been approved for permanent U.S. residency, and he was planning a celebratory trip to his native land by the end of the year. He had been in the United States since 1997, his wife said.

The family lives in a Laurel apartment and had plans to buy a townhouse closer to Baltimore, his wife said. One of 11 siblings -- and the only one living in the United States -- Mustafa had wanted to take a trip to Pakistan after not having visited his homeland for about a decade, his wife said. Now, his family is having his body shipped to Pakistan for the funeral, she said.

"I'm just shocked that this happened to him," she said. "I really am."

Mustafa is the third city cabdriver killed on the job since 2003. Veolia Transportation Inc., which operates a network of Yellow and Checker cabs, said it is offering a reward of $2,500 for information that helps police arrest and convict the gunman in Mustafa's killing.

Dwight R. Kines, the company's general manager, said that what happened to Mustafa has shocked cabdrivers, but that overall crimes against drivers have decreased over the past decade.

"It's hard to reassure [cabdrivers] with something that's so random," said Kines. "It can happen to any driver in the city. ... I think our [drivers] realize the dangers."

Jaspal Singh Gill, 30, who holds the permit for the cab that Mustafa drove for him as part of the Checker Cab Association, said he last spoke with Mustafa on Friday. "He was a good driver. I had no problems with him. He liked to work nighttime."

Mustafa was among a small but growing group of South Asian cabdrivers in Baltimore. Mostly men who have come from Pakistan and India, the immigrants take jobs as cabdrivers because they can work long hours -- and make more money the more hours they work, according to several drivers who knew Mustafa.

Gill said that he met Mustafa about two years ago, when they were both driving cabs in the city. Gill eventually bought his own cabs, and Mustafa came to work for him about three months ago.

Mustafa's wife said her husband "basically worked 24 hours a day."

According to Veolia Transportation, owner of the Yellow and Checker cab associations, Mustafa was a native of Lahore and graduated from high school in Pakistan in 1991. He drove cabs on and off for the company for the past two years, Kines said.

Chaudhry Qamar, 50, said Mustafa was a "very experienced driver" who could often be found waiting to pick up a fare at the Greyhound bus terminal in South Baltimore. He said Mustafa regularly sent money back to relatives in Pakistan.

"He was a very honest, hardworking guy," Qamar said. "Everybody was shocked about this brutal murder."

Nadeem Akhtar, 34, said he knew Mustafa from waiting at the same taxi stands together. They shared jokes and concerns about work, and spoke of having families in Pakistan that they helped with money.

Akhtar said cabdrivers do fear for their safety. On Tuesday night, the same night that Mustafa was killed, Akhtar said, two men tried to rob him at gunpoint outside his Lansdowne home after he had parked his cab. He threw a handful of papers at them and ran away, avoiding the robbers, he said. He believes the men targeted him because they saw that he drove a cab and believed that he had money.

"This is too much for us who drive the cabs," he said.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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