Mourners Remember Cab Driver

By Bobby Cuza
STAFF WRITER
October 28, 2002

Mourners on Monday remembered taxi driver Mohammed Yousuf, who was killed Friday in Woodside when his cab was rear-ended and burst into flames — an incident that has prompted calls for a class-action lawsuit against the Ford Motor Co.

More than 90 percent of the city’s yellow taxis are Ford Crown Victorias, which came under federal scrutiny after a dozen police officers died after their cars’ gas tank caught fire in rear-end collisions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Oct. 17 closed its investigation into Ford Crown Victorias built since 1990 without finding a defect.

Nonetheless, Ford offered to outfit police cars with a special protective fuel-tank shield.

“We immediately want the cars that are out on the road to be installed with these safety measures,” Bhairavi Desai, staff coordinator for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said yesterday at a vigil for Yousuf. “Ford has the capability. They have the technology. This is sheerly a matter of political will.”

Desai wrote state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer yesterday asking him to file suit against Ford.

Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said Monday that the company would make the shields available for taxis and other civilian vehicles, but would not foot installation costs — estimated at $100 to $200 per car.

She stressed that police officers use their cars in more hazardous ways than cab drivers, and that even the shield would be of benefit only in extremely rare circumstances.

“We don’t believe it’s necessary at all,” she said. “People have to remember this is a very safe car.”

Yousuf, a father of five whose wife and children live in Pakistan, had finished his 12-hour shift and was just a few blocks from home at the time of the accident, about 4:30 a.m. Friday.

He was idling at a red light at the intersection of Northern Boulevard, Broadway and 54th Street when he was rear-ended by a 1999 Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle.

Yousuf’s taxi burst into flames and he died instantly. The other driver fled. Police seized the Escalade but have made no arrests.

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Matthew Daus said the incident appears unrelated to a string of mysterious blazes over the past two years in which six taxis spontaneously caught fire.

Ford’s investigation linked most of those fires to after-market alterations or faulty maintenance, he said.

“It’s really horrible what happened,” Daus said. “As soon as we get some more detailed information, we’re going to follow up with Ford like we did before.” Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.