Officials say it's not uncommon for livery cars to hang out at the Gateway Shopping Center and wait for consumers who need a ride home after making their purchases. On Monday, the fight for those fares apparently turned violent.
Authorities believe a turf war between Dominican drivers escalated in the attack, in which one man threw a shopping cart off a pedestrian walkway, nearly killing two other drivers below.
"This is a time bomb waiting to happen," said Fernando Mateo, spokesman for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. "And when drivers feel that someone else is taking their business away, they're going to fight for it. And that's what's happening right now."
The shopping cart fell three stories, hitting Ibrahima Sagne, of Ivory Coast, and Louncey Camara, an immigrant from the Republic of Guinea, outside the Home Depot at the Mott Haven Mall. And authorities believe the incident was sparked by a fight over a $7 to $10 fare.
"It's about who took whose passenger, and who was waiting for who, and whether you can really pick them up or not pick them up," Mateo said.
The incident echoed last fall's cart throw at a Home Depot in East Harlem that left a woman brain damaged. In that case, two children pushed the cart over the edge as a prank.
This time, witnesses told police the shopping cart came out of nowhere. The victims had no idea what hit them.
Sagne spoke to Eyewitness News from his bedside Tuesday afternoon at Lincoln Hospital.
"I was coming with a friend to buy something over there," Sagne said, "I don't do nothing bad to nobody. I don't fight with nobody. I don't know where the cart come from," he insisted. "I don't know who did that to me. I don't see nobody. Maybe it's a mistake, I don't know."
Camara's 15-year-old son showed Eyewitness News his dad's bloody clothing and said he has no idea why anybody would want to hurt him.
"My father is a nice guy, no," said Amadou Camara, the victim's son.
Police said Camara may have been targeted by rival livery drivers in the on-going turf war for fares at Gateway Center.
Tuesday night, Fernando Mateo of The Federation of Taxi Drivers says the motive is clear.
The feud, he says, needs to stop.
"It's those illegal drivers that create a turf, like gangs create turfs, and they don't want to allow the legal drivers to come in and do their job, legally," Mateo said.
52-year-old Camara was rushed into surgery in critical condition. 30-year-old Sagne was knocked flat by the cart, but is listed in serious condition and expected to survive. Both were struck in the head and then rushed to Lincoln Medical Center, and both are now stable.
Mateo says the feud between licensed and unlicensed drivers dates back four years ago.
"We complained to TLC about this problem," he said. "Over a year now, we've been complaining to them, telling them that the drivers that are working this development, this Home Depot, this whole shopping center, are fed up with being assaulted and having to fight for what they're paying for."
Mateo says Diplo Car Service has an exclusive contract with Gateway to pick up passengers inside the shopping center. He says licensed livery cab drivers pay $1 to Diplo to operate there.
"The ultimate responsible people there are the landlords, are the people that own this development," he said. "They lost control over the whole situation. They're allowing everyone and anyone to go in there and fight for business. And that's not right."
Gateway management did not respond to Eyewitness News' calls for comment. TLC Commissioner David Yassky tells Eyewitness News that his office has not received any official complaints from livery cab drivers about other drivers at the shopping center.
Police have surveillance video of the incident and are working on identifying the suspect.
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