Taxi Widows

Compensating the Families of Slain Minority Cabbies Is a Bureaucratic Nightmare

Hynes also remembers trying to contact the cosigner of an apartment lease in the driver's name through a beeper number he had acquired. After about a year, the beeper worked. In December 1998, the cosigner gave Hynes a number for the widow, who lived in Yonkers. Two weeks before the deadline, she filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation Board. "The T&LC and the NYPD could have had this woman's address for me in 10 minutes but did nothing," Hynes charges.

The case fueled Hynes's resolve. He kept learning about families who had applied for benefits both with the workers' compensation and crime victims agencies, but heard nothing for years. "Others were skeptical about this stranger calling them up, making vague promises of big bucks," he reflects. "Agencies like Victims Services get millions to do this work." The more Hynes looked, the more annoyed he became. "I have found cases of drivers who have left behind as many as 18 children," he says. "About one in 10 widows had never heard of crime victims' compensation. Countless other widows still do not know about the benefits."

"The T&LC chair did not deny having never written a word in her monthly column about dead drivers," Hynes snaps. "She did, however, write many words bidding a 'fond farewell' to the last checker cab in August 1999."

During Hynes's crusade, he delved deeper into the politics he says also have bogged down the compensation process. He began to target Taxi and Limousine Commission chair Diane McGrath-McKechnie, who headed the the Crime Victims Compensation Board for seven years and wrote some of its guidlines. Says Hynes: "All that experience and the T&LC has never—in McGrath-McKechnie's four years at the helm—been able to hand a crime victims compensation application to a taxi widow."

On January 12 of this year, Jose Torres became the first driver to die at the hands of the gypsy cabjackers. It did not escape Hynes's notice that neither Mayor Rudy Giuliani nor McGrath-McKechnie had ever attended the funeral of a slain livery cab driver or even called upon the family of the deceased to express their condolences. "Yet when Pamela Turk, a white tourist from Boca Raton, Florida, was grazed by a random bullet in midtown in 1998, Giuliani almost beat the ambulance to the hospital with offers of whatever she needed, including putting her up at a better hotel than the St. Moritz, where she had been staying," Hynes points out. No one from the mayor's office, he remembers, showed up at a January 19 T&LC hearing to denounce the Torres killing.

"The T&LC chair did not deny having never written a word in her monthly column about dead drivers," Hynes snaps. "She did, however, write many words bidding a 'fond farewell' to the last Checker cab in August 1999."

Hynes's mission at the T&LC hearing was to expose the suffering of the taxi widows. "It appeared to be a routine meeting," recalls Hynes, in a scathing review of the proceedings. "The T&LC and other city agency staff seemed to outnumber the public, and there was the usual hefty police presence. The chair congratulated the rest of her fellow commission members for showing up during a minor snowfall. A driver received a certificate, as did the T&LC staff who had prepared for Y2K. McGrath-McKechnie came down from her podium to greet and congratulate her staff and hand them their awards; she stayed in her seat while a driver got his reward for returning a priceless violin to its owner. Then another driver had his license revoked, and it was speaker time."

During the open-mike session, Hynes asked if anyone had heard about Jose Torres, whom he identified only by his last name. "I did not wish to mention his full name and appear to be using his death for political gain, particularly if someone was present to speak for him." But McGrath-McKechnie and other commissioners misunderstood, announcing that a T&LC commissioner named Torres was present. "I'm talking about Mr. Torres the driver," Hynes declared.

No response. Then Hynes talked about the murder of Jose Torres and how no one seemed to be advising the families of slain drivers about crime victims' and workers' compensation, Social Security, and other benefits. Hynes says McGrath-McKechnie told him that an aide would speak to him about his concerns after the hearing. Hynes waited. "He said he would return momentarily, but half an hour later I could wait no longer," Hynes claims. McGrath-McKechnie, he remembers, closed the meeting by ripping into the editors of Taxi Talk, a magazine put out by drivers.

"She was embarrassed that Taxi Talk had a photo of a scantily clad 'Ms. Taxi Talk' in each issue and that it referred to women as 'babes.' She urged advertisers to think twice before buying space in Taxi Talk. I wanted to tell her that I understood her concerns, but that she should also admit that the T&LC dumps on drivers until they die, and then they forget that they ever existed."

(Asked about Hynes's allegations, David Hind, a spokesman for the T&LC, said he would work on getting a reaction, but did not call back.)

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