By Sonja Sharp, Trevor Kapp, Amy Zimmer and Tom Liddy
MOTT HAVEN — One of the livery drivers who was seriously injured when a shopping cart was tossed off a parking garage at a South Bronx mall warned a friend on the day of the attack that he feared something bad was going to happen amid a turf war with other drivers.
The shocking incident at the Gateway Center Monday night — which was eerily similar to one last year in East Harlem in which philanthropist Marion Hedges was knocked into a coma — left Louceny Camara, 52, and Ibrahima Sagne, 30, with head injuries.
Cab drivers at the mall said the incident came amid a beef between the livery company, Diplo, whose drivers are primarily from the Dominican Republic and the other drivers at the former Bronx Terminal Market site, who are mostly African immigrants.
Memedi Zerbo, a friend of the injured men, said that Sagne told him he had a bad feeling on the day of the incident.
"On Monday morning, Ibrahima told me that you've got to be careful because the Spanish guys are saying something bad is going to happen," said Zerbo, 50.
Another driver, Derrick Mensah, said that just before the shopping cart went flying at 5:30 p.m., the victims were involved in an altercation with an unidentified person outside the mall.
"We saw the conflict going on downstairs," he said. "I rushed to move my car, and then the shopping cart [was] on top of two people. They were on the ground."
Camara and Sagne had been walking near the entrance of the Home Depot at the mall when a cart careened off the third floor of the parking garage, striking them both, sources said. Police were looking for at least one man in a hooded sweatshirt who fled.
Both victims remained at Lincoln Hospital, where they were in stable condition Tuesday.
"I'm happy my husband feels better," said Camara's wife, Fatoumata Bah, 46, after visiting him at the hospital. "I have four boys. They're just crying."
She said her husband, who was awake and had four stitches in his forehead, "has no idea" what happened on Monday.
Camara's son, Amadou Camara, 14, said of his father: "He's the type to avoid problems." He described how his father made breakfast for him and his brothers every morning and played basketball with them. He said his father never complained about his job or other drivers at the mall.
"Why would someone do that?" he asked about the accident. "I just hope they regret what happened," he said of the cart thrower. "They should just stay in jail forever."
According to a spokeswoman for the mall, Diplo, which is licensed by the Taxi & Limousine Commission, has an agreement with Gateway Center to provide rides to mall customers.
The victims were not licensed by the TLC, according to the agency's records.
A Home Depot worker, who would not give his name, said he frequently saw fights among the drivers "over turf." Zerbo said there was a fight as recently as Saturday, although the details were not immediately clear.
Mensah said he and the other African drivers had been shuttling customers from a spot outside Home Depot, at 149th Street and River Avenue, for years, but Diplo moved in three years ago and began to corner the market.
Diplo set up one stand near Target on the fifth floor of the mall's parking garage and another, with roughly two dozen cars, outside BJs on the second floor, Mensah said.
"I receive threats every day," said Mensah, claiming the rival drivers have followed him and photographed his license plates and that there have been frequent physical fights.
"Right now, I'm not fighting anymore. I'm tired," he said. "I don't want to put my life on the line. [Monday's incident] really scared me. Right now I'm going to be really careful."
Fernando Mateo, the spokesman for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, said his organization has told the TLC about the conflict for years with no result.
"It's a turf war that exists and continues to exist and could have been prevented," said Mateo. "You have a turf war of illegal cab drivers versus legal cab drivers."
"We have been telling the TLC that this problem has been happening for years," Mateo added.
He also said his organization alerted mall owners about the situation.
"The responsible people are the owners of the Gateway Center," Mateo said.
But Maximo Pena, a representative for Diplo, said that the idea of a feud between the companies was "a big lie."
The TLC said that it had not received any complaints about the drivers at the mall.
A person who answered the phone at Home Depot declined comment.
In a statement, The Bronx Terminal Market said it was "working closely with the local authorities in regard to the unfortunate incident and cannot be commenting on their investigation."