Ex-convict charged in Jamaica livery cab murder

Donald Thomas, 44, of 166-01 Linden Blvd. in Jamaica, was arrested last Thursday and charged with murder in the…

By Betsy Scheinbart

An ex-convict was arrested last week and charged with murder in the April 21 shooting death of a livery cab driver in Jamaica, police said.

Donald Thomas, 44, of 166-01 Linden Blvd. in Jamaica, was arrested last Thursday and charged with murder in the second degree, meaning there was intent to kill the victim, said Detective Carolyn Chew, a police spokeswoman. A second suspect was still being sought.

The victim, Gurdev Lal, 56, of 49-16 99th St. in Corona, was shot twice and killed as he drove his livery cab on 102nd Avenue in Jamaica, police said.

Lal is survived by a wife and three children in India, where his funeral was scheduled to take place.

Thomas served time in jail for his second felony conviction for the criminal sale of a controlled substance, said Betsy Hertzog, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Thomas was arrested and sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison in 1994, Hertzog said. The DA’s office did not have records of his release date or the details of his prior felony conviction.

Less than 36 hours after Lal’s death, a second livery cab driver, Jose Gutierrez, was stabbed to death in the Bronx, police said.

On the following day, April 23, a third livery driver was attacked at 59-09 Norman St. in Ridgewood but only sustained minor injuries. His name was not released. No arrests had been made by press time.

There was no indication that the attacks were related.

Lal’s slaying was the first cab-driver murder since new safety measures were implemented in 2000. After nine livery drivers were killed in the first four months of last year the City Council allocated $5 million for bullet-proof partitions or security cameras to be installed in every livery cab.

Lal’s cab had a bullet-proof partition, but the window was open at the time of the shooting.

Witnesses said the cab swerved back and forth as it traveled west down 102nd Avenue toward the Van Wyck service road, banging into parked cars with its rear passenger door hanging open. Gunshots sounded toward the end of the car’s reckless trek down the street.

Neighbors speculated the attacker jumped into the front seat to stop the car after shooting the driver. The cab came to rest behind a truck as if it had been parked.

After Lal’s death, New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers President Fernando Mateo called on the City Council to enact further safety measures to prevent violence against livery cab drivers.

Mateo is petitioning the Council to fund computer tracking chips, which a driver could activate by hitting a silent alarm.

The chips would cost between $6 million and $8 million to install in all city cabs and maintenance would be an additional $15 per cab, Mateo said.

Detectives in the 103rd Precinct said the investigation was still on-going Monday.

— Dustin Brown contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.