Slain ‘neighborhood limo’ driver has workers calling for more safety regs

For the second time yesterday, Condor Car and Limousine Services, headquartered on the 4700 block of Rising Sun Avenue in Feltonville, mourned the loss of an employee shot and killed while on duty.

Sebastian Nunez-Suarez, 52, of the 3200 block of Kip Street in Kensington, was found slumped in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Towncar around 11 p.m. Monday with a gunshot wound to the head, investigators said. He reportedly crashed into several parked cars on the 4900 block of Bingham Street before coming to a stop.

Police said the motive for the slaying is robbery. No arrests have yet been made.

“Sebastian Nunez, a native of the Dominican Republic, hardworking
husband, and father was a neighborhood limousine driver for Condor Car
& Limousine Service for approximately five years,” the company said
in a statement. “… He had picked up
passengers in the neighborhood of 9th and Huntingdon streets just a few
minutes earlier.”

Condor Limousine wishes to express its deepest condolences to the
family and friends of Mr. Nunez. We trust that the Philadelphia Police
Department will capture and bring Mr. Nunez’s assailants to justice.”

Another Condor employee, Juan Reyes, was shot and killed in Philadelphia in 2010 while on duty with the company, workers said. His photograph still hangs in the lobby of the small office located on a busy commercial strip of the neighborhood. His killer has never been brought to justice, according to employees.

“This is the second Condor driver that has been murdered on the
streets of Philadelphia within the last two years,” the company said of Nunez-Suarez’s death. “Condor wishes to
reach out to its clientele and ask for any information leading to the
capture of these brutal criminals.”

The latest incident has Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania President
Ronald Blount calling for increased safety oversight of the city’s
cabbies, as well as drivers like Nunez-Suarez, who are referred to as “neighborhood” towncar and limousine
drivers and often cater to underserved communities.

“Those drivers don’t have a partition shield in those
vehicles and the Department of Labor has shown that reduces homicides
of cab drivers by 80 percent,” Blount said.

Companies like Condor differ from the 1,600 medallion cabs that
largely operate in Center City’s business and tourism districts, though
both fall under the oversight of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

“1,600 of those licenses must always be in effect and we, as regulators,
must make sure they’re in effect and there’s a vehicle operating under
those licenses,” Director of the PPA’s Taxicab and Limousine
Division Jim Ney said of the medallion cabs. “Those licenses are valuable. They’re bought and sold
like real estate. Right now, one of those licenses is worth $400,000.”

The towncar services, however, are not regulated under the same strict
medallion system. Companies can operate several vehicles under the same
license, are not authorized to use meters and are generally restricted to serving
certain geographic areas. Only four such companies are authorized by the
PPA to offer point-to-point service, with Condor being one, Ney said.

Though the financial costs of doing business may be lower for these towncar and limousine companies – the majority of which serve Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, Ney said – the risks tend to be higher. The point-to-point “neighborhood” towncars are not subject to the same safety regulations as medallion cabs, which are required to have protections like a barrier separating driver and passenger.

“If you’re going to protect
the one percent in the city, you need to protect taxi drivers in the
neighborhoods,” Blount said. “For $150, you can get a partition shield. I
heard this man was shot in the head. That would definitely have
protected him, maybe saved his life.” Blount feels that the PPA should hold point-to-point towncar companies to more rigid safety regulations for the protection of their drivers.

But Ney said the PPA can’t enforce such safety measures for these companies since they are not legally required, though the agency has strongly encouraged them. “My enforcement group ran a safety seminar for these four companies, what we call ‘neighborhood limousine companies,'” he said. Condor was one of the participating businesses, he confirmed.

“We ran a seminar for them and put an order into effect that they could put various safety aids into their vehicles – the shields or cameras, trouble lights, those types of things that would not ordinarily be used by most limousine companies,” he said. “And a lot of limousine companies have not availed themselves of these things.”

Still, Blount said that he’s been attempting to work with the PPA to come up with some kind of workers’ compensation or safety coverage for cab drivers, citing another Department of Labor statistic: taxi drivers are 60 percent more likely to be killed on duty than workers in any other occupation.

The death of Reyes, and now Suarez-Nunez, poignantly illustrates the hazards of working late nights driving the city streets and picking up strangers, each fare posing a new risk. “Who’s going to bury this driver?” Blount said. “Who’s going to take care of his kids, put them through college? No one. He’s gone now.”

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