By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — A cab driver charged with plowing into two men he booted out of his cab did so because he would have been fined $30 for returning his car late, prosecutors said Monday.
The horrific scene, police said, was caused after Mohammed Azam, 27, picked up four friends at 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue, and they asked to go to the Bronx. The cabbie refused to drive there and told them to get out after just a few blocks. Prosecutors said Azam was worried that if he took the fares all the way to the Bronx, he would be late taking the cab back and would be fined.
After threatening to call the police when the men refused to get out of the cab, Azam drove them to the Manhattan North police station, prosecutors said.
"Fine, call the police," one of the passengers said when the argument began with Azam, according to prosecutors. "We'll call them too."
A lieutenant inside the police station at Manhattan North told Azam he had to take the men to the Bronx. But before they could get back into the cab, Azam reversed and then accelerated forward, plowing into two of the men who were in front of the car, prosecutors said.
The two men were allegedly tossed onto the hood, and tumbled off as Azam sped 30 yards ahead. One of them, Anthony Loreto, 22, had a fractured skull and was put into a medically-induced coma at the hospital. The other was badly injured.
A third was injured because his hand was on the door handle and he was allegedly dragged backwards when Azam made a sharp reverse. The lucky fourth man had decided to take a different cab and was not injured in the melee.
After striking the men, Azam procceeded to the cab depot and to his home in Jackson Heights, Queens, the DA said at his criminal court arraignment Monday.
"He simply drove away, went home and acted like nothing had happened," Assistant District Attorney Greg SanGermano said.
Azam was charged with assault, reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of the accident, and was ordered held on $100,000 bail, which his lawyer, Joshua Benjamin, said he was unlikely to be able to post.
Benjamin called Azam a "hard working immigrant" and said he was enrolled at a Caribbean medical school and drove a cab part-time to earn a living.
He denied that Azam knowingly hit any of the passengers and said he did everything he was supposed to do after leaving the police station.
Benjamin would not discuss whether the Bronx-bound men had provoked or harassed Azam in any way to warrant such an extreme response.
But Azam's brother, who could not communicate well in English, said the "kids" were harassing Azam. He did not elaborate.
Azam is due back in court on Friday, when he'll learn whether a grand jury has voted to indict him.