By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4)– A CBS4 Investigation has found a Denver Yellow Cab driver, who has admitted to at least four crashes while on the job, two of them involving pedestrians, numerous moving violations and violations of Public Utilities and Yellow Cab regulations, is still driving a cab in Denver.
“If Yellow Cab cares about the people riding in their cabs, they don’t allow someone like this to be driving at all,” said Alex Wilschke, an attorney suing the taxi company over a 2011 accident driver Tesfamariam Okbamicael was involved in.
In that case, Okbamicael was heading north out of downtown Denver on Broadway at about 10:30 p.m. when he struck two pedestrians who were crossing Broadway at Larimer Street. Jessica Ferrer and her friend Kathryn Winslow were both hospitalized.
A witness to the accident, Billy Feid, saw what happened and told CBS4, “He was going twice the speed limit compared to other cars going through. Probably 50 or 60 miles per hour.”
“I believe he was driving way in excess of what the speed limit should be.”
Witnesses say the women were crossing against the light, or that the light changed while they were in the intersection.
Ferrer was seriously injured and says she still suffers seizures and other problems stemming from the accident. Denver police cited Okbamicael for careless driving resulting in serious bodily injury. Court records show Okbamicael later pleaded guilty to a lesser speeding charge. Ferrer’s attorneys suspect Okbamicael was on the phone when he hit the pedestrians, but the cab driver said during a deposition he could not remember if that was the case.
But as CBS4 probed Okbamicael’s driving record, the investigation found he has admitted previously colliding with pedestrians while driving his taxi. During a videotaped deposition, an attorney asked Okbamicael if he had ever hit people before the 2011 crash.
Through an interpreter he said, ”I don’t remember the exact date but yes, downtown. I had someone walk into my vehicle. I do remember somewhere on Arapahoe and 14th.”
To verify that second, earlier pedestrian accident, CBS4 approached Okbamicael earlier this month with a camera, asking him how many times he had collided with people while driving a yellow cab.
“Two times I think in downtown area,” he responded.
But he said he didn’t remember much about either incident, “It’s a long time.”
Court records reviewed by CBS4 suggest the earlier pedestrian incident occurred in 2007, but more detailed records related to that incident no longer exist, according to Denver County court personnel.
Beyond that, between Okbamicael’s own admissions and public records, he has been involved in several other collisions while driving his cab. In September 2008, Denver police cited the cabbie for careless driving resulting in an accident on Pena Blvd. In that case, officers notes show Okbamicael sped past an emergency vehicle, and then slammed on his brakes causing him to be rear ended by another vehicle. Court records show the case was dismissed when officers failed to appear for Okbamicael’s court appearance.
Although records show Okbamicael has numerous moving violations, most occurred earlier in his taxi driving career.
In 2011, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission audited Yellow Cab records to see if any drivers were violating state regulations against driving too many hours. That audit, obtained by Ferrer’s attorneys and shared with CBS4, showed that Okbamicael was found by state investigators to have been a top violator at Yellow Cab, violating regulations prohibiting driving more than 80 hours in eight days on 18 separate occasions.
Bill George, President of Yellow Cab’s parent company, issued the following statement to CBS4: “A review of his 27 year driving record indicates he fully complies with all guidelines established by both the State of Colorado and the City of Denver. There is no indication in any of our records, or those of the state, that there was any prior pedestrian accident other than the matter that is currently in litigation. I personally spoke to Mr. Okbamicael today and asked him about a prior accident. He denies any such occurrence. Mr. Okbamicael did mention that he felt ambushed by your crew and was confused with the questions. As you are aware, English is a second language to Mr. Okbamicael. You will also note that he required a translator for his videotaped deposition.”
George went on to say Yellow Cab follows all local, state and federal requirements as they apply to individuals operating commercial vehicles, “In addition, Yellow Cab subscribes to a service that provides quarterly updates on all driving records. We work with our safety team to identify unsafe behaviors and spend incredible resources on both electronic and field monitoring.”
At one point during the CBS4 Investigation, a reporter and producer booked a cab ride with Okbamicael from downtown Denver to DIA. During the ride, he was asked if he had experienced any accidents during his time driving a cab. He mentioned just one in 2004, in which he said a truck turned into him.
Also during the ride, Okbamicael’s cellphone rang, and he answered while he was driving, an apparent violation of Yellow Cab rules.
Jessica Ferrer is suing Okbamicael and Yellow Cab over the 2011 accident. Bill George said since the case is pending, he and his company would not comment on it.
Ferrer said she was surprised to learn Okbamicael was back behind the wheel of a taxi, “It just shocks me that after all that they put him behind the wheel.”
Jim Puga, one of Ferrer’s attorneys, told CBS4, “Yellow Cab is just putting profits over the safety of the public.”
Another of Ferrer’s lawyers, Alex Wilschke, said “How many times do you get to hit someone? You shouldn’t hit anyone and still be driving a cab.”