August 29, 2013 - 5:11 PM
'YOU CAN'T MAKE YOURSELF ANY SAFER'
KAMLOOPS - Driving cab was never much of a job for Ken Cotter. Most days, picking up fares was something he enjoyed.
"You get in my cab sad and you usually get out giggling," he says, his face lighting up at the thought.
It certainly wasn't age that changed things, or his health for that matter. Cotter, 67, suffers from emphysema and he's still dealing with the loss of his wife of 47 years. But maybe it's all a part of feeling vulnerable after a violent altercation with a patron last year.
He admits most times he still loves driving night shift, but it's no longer the same. He thinks, worries, fears his next customer. He's pondering retirement next year.
"I have changed the way I work," Cotter says. "I watch who I pick up."
On Sept. 26, 2012, he picked up the wrong client, though he didn't know it at the time. Anthony Sauls had more than 60 offences under his belt when he asked for a ride for himself and his girlfriend nearly an hour out of town to the Niskonlith reserve near Chase. It was out of Cotter's usual way so he asked for—and got—the fare up front.
Cotter got Sauls and his girlfriend home safely, however Sauls wanted his money back from the long trip. He took it, but only after beating Cotter into the steering wheel and forcing him to defend himself the only way he could — by staying down and hoping the beating would just eventually end. In court, one police officer described at length a 'goose-egg' on his head, the worst he'd ever seen, and injuries Cotter sustained.
"Physically, it's nothing," Cotter says. "It's the emotional."
He had about $175 stolen from him that night, along with a permit for loading and unloading at the Kamloops Airport — one of his busiest stops — a goose egg, black eyes, a bruised nose, a facial cut, broken glasses. There's also the loss of wages that will result because of how he makes decisions now, and that loss will continue until he call it quits.
It has created a difficult situation for Cotter — one he faces every night he continues to drive night shift. It's part of the aftermath from that night. He takes in less cab fare regularly because now, he turns down dispatch calls to places he doesn't feel are safe and will reject people in his cab when he feels unsure.
The financial strain came during what Cotter calls a 'hard year.' He was hooked up to a portable oxygen tank to help with his emphysema and his wife of 47 years passed away seven months prior.
You wouldn't know any of that either if you had just hopped in his cab.
"I'm making it through," he says.
One thing Cotter is hoping to get past, however, is why Sauls was given a 'low-end' sentence — less than the lowest recommendation by the Crown — for multiple charges he was found guilty of in relation to this incident.
Sauls was sentenced on Aug. 16 for robbery and a breach of conditions to 32 months in prison less time already served.
"He should have got at least eight years," Cotter says.
Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon said rehabilitation and Sauls' aboriginal descent were considerations in her decision despite more than 60 offences prior to the incident and previous failed attempts to get sober.
Fenlon called Sauls' crime a 'cowardly and vicious attack on a vulnerable victim' and said crimes against taxi drivers are considered serious under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Taxi drivers are deemed vulnerable due to the nature of their work, however Cotter is arguably even more so, standing just over five feet tall, thin and suffering from emphysema that still causes him all-out coughing fits. He was a vulnerable person, in an even more vulnerable situation involving a much younger and stronger man in the place of his work, in a remote location, away from his home.
Fenlon's sentence, however, may not reflect the serious nature of the crime, according to Cotter's co-worker of three years who was also surprised by the sentence.
Annette Craik said she couldn't believe the sight of Cotter when he first came back to work a few weeks after the incident.
"His eyes, cheeks, everything," Craik says. "I almost cried the first time I saw him."
"It was just so sad to see," she says. "Really, did you have to beat him up? He would have given you the money."
Craik says she was scared in her own cab after what happened to Cotter.
"It's a little close to home," she says. "You start to wonder about the next guy you pick up, is that going to be me?"
She sees glass barricades between drivers and passengers as the only option to make drivers more safe — there's already an emergency button in place to alert police.
"There's nothing you can change," she says. "You can't make yourself any safer in a vehicle."
She's made her own decision not to work night shifts, but Cotter continues to put on a strong, smiling face and work as much as he can on the night shift he has always loved, chatting with every person who steps in his cab.
"The only reason I'm still driving cab is because I love driving, and I love people," he says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013