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Taxi driver arrested in bizarre hit and run

March 7, 2011 2:56:56 PM PST
A young man is fighting for his life after his friends say an argument about a taxi ride ended with the driver running him down.

Mohammed Azam is a cabbie with a temper.

The 27-year-old allegedly, while behind the wheel, ran down two men Sunday morning.

Anthony Loreto still lies in a hospital bed in ICU with a fractured skull and broken leg.

Frank Lembo was also hit and rushed to NY Presbyterian Hospital where he exclusively told Eyewitness News about the ordeal.

"Luckily, I grabbed onto the hood, my friend Anthony was not lucky, when the taxi driver was speeding he hits the breaks, my friend Anthony flew off I eventually fell off, Anthony fell off and was knocked unconscious," Lembo said.

We are now learning Azam has clashed with others riding in his cab.

The TLC tells Eyewitness News, the medical student; in March of last year admitted he "threatened, harassed or abused a passenger."

Azam's hack license was suspended for 30 days and he agreed to pay a $500 fine.

As for Sunday's incident in Midtown in which Azam allegedly refused to drive this group to the Bronx and then in his cab hit the men and took off, his brother says Azam had no idea why police were arresting him late last night at his home in Queens.

"He tells me that nothing happened, that they make it a big deal," said Mohammed Nobi, the suspect's brother.

"They" refers to Frank and his friends.

Nobi says his brother said he never saw anyone get hurt and went on to explain how Azam has had problems in the past with passengers not paying their fare.

"Every time, like normally black people, some stupid, who aren't going to pay, they are coming and always do like that, every night his taxi has a problem," Nobi said.

Joe Hladki a friend of Anthony Loreto also described what happened.

"He's my best friend," he said. "We were baptized together on the same day, so seeing him in here is just, there's no money, nothing."

"I told the taxi driver, 'to the Bronx,'" Lembo said, "He lets us in, and then we go in, and he says, 'I'm only taking you two blocks.'"

The men say the cab driver then pulled over and the group began to argue. Frank says he told the driver that it was against the law to refuse to take them to the Bronx.

"I said we all have cash on us, even credit cards and everything, we're not going nowhere," Hladki said. "He was like, 'Oh, I'm not going to make no money on this.' I told him, we're going to the Bronx, we'll give you a good tip, just get us home."

Lembo says he called 911, with everyone was still in the car, the cabbie suggested they make the short drive to the precinct.

"I was happy because I knew he was wrong and the cops were going to do the right thing, and they did," Hladki said.

Once at Midtown North, the group, including the driver, went inside. Anthony waited out front.

The men told several officers what happened, and they say police instructed the driver to take the group to the Bronx.

But when they came outside, they say the driver got into his cab, locked the doors and hit the gas pedal, aiming right for them.

Police arrested Mohammed G. Azam, 27, of Queens. Azam is charged with one count of vehicular assault and three counts of leaving the scene of the accident.

City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca of the Bronx released the following statement:

"First and foremost, my prayers are with Anthony and his family. This tragedy underscores a systemic problem in the yellow taxi industry. I am tired of hearing about cab drivers who refuse to leave Manhattan when passengers are entitled by law to a ride anywhere in the five boroughs. Service refusal is a problem that has defied solution for too long, and this is truly the straw that broke the camel's back. I am urging anyone and everyone who is refused a trip to record the date, time, driver name and medallion number and promptly report it to 311 or NYC.gov/taxi. And I am calling on the Taxi and Limousine Commission to discipline each and every cab driver who thinks he or she can choose which laws to obey and which not to obey, even if that means revoking licenses for repeat offenders. A tragedy like what occurred Saturday night should never be permitted to happen again."

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