Man forced to bail out of moving taxi
UI student facing DUI, battery, theft charges
URBANA — John Scott said in the 10 years of intermittent taxi driving he's done in the Champaign and Urbana area, he's picked up many fine University of Illinois students and faculty members.
But what happened to the 65-year-old Pesotum man early Saturday morning was a first and left him shaken and temporarily without the means to supplement his Social Security income.
The sole operator of Scotty's Taxi, consisting of a fleet of one 1999 mininvan, said he picked up three men at Sixth and Green around 1:45 a.m. who wanted to go to the Silver Bullet bar on East Washington Street in east Urbana. Scott told them it might not be open but took them there anyway, only to find that it was indeed closed.
After the trio got back in his minivan taxi, one told him to head back to Green Street while another in the front ordered him to head east on East Washington Street.
"We crossed (Illinois) 130 and were about 2 miles out in the country. They just got quiet. I had a gut feeling that something was wrong so I turned around and started to head back. I drove back to the other side of 130 and got back on Washington and that's when the guy (in the front seat) started hitting me," Scott said.
"I felt two to three blows to my head. I yelled and grabbed the driver's door and got out while the van was still going. I was going about 45 mph. The van kept going and somehow he managed to get hold of the steering wheel," Scott said
The man who allegedly punched Scott and took the wheel was later identified by police as Thomas Hart, 21, a UI student from Elmhurst.
Scott said he must have fallen as he jumped because 12 hours later, his left knee and a shoulder were aching. Otherwise, he sustained a couple blows to the side of the face that did not require medical attention.
Scott said he thought the other two passengers stayed in the van, but after knocking on the door of a home to ask them to call police, he noticed they were out on Washington Street not far from him while his taxi was gone.
Scott said several Urbana police arrived and were taking information from him and the passengers. As an officer was checking the computer system for Scott's license plate number, another call came in that the minivan had been involved in a collision with another car on Washington Street extended at County Road 1800 E, which is 2 miles east of 130, the same area where Scott said Hart had directed him earlier.
Champaign County sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Vercler said Hart sideswiped another eastbound car, sending it into a ditch while the minivan went into a cornfield.
Vercler said the occupants of the car that was hit were Jose Reynoso, 29, and Suleyma Landaverde, 38, both of St. Joseph. They were taken to Carle Foundation Hospital, where they were treated and released.
Hart, who was not injured, was arrested for driving under the influence, aggravated battery and possession of a stolen vehicle. He was taken to the county jail by Urbana police but was released later Saturday after posting $2,500 cash bond.
Scott said he got a look at his 1999 minivan, for which he has only liability insurance, and learned he could not drive it. It had front-end damage, a flattened tire and one of the side doors was off. That means he'll be out of the taxi business for a while.
Scott said he didn't believe Hart's friends had any idea what he was going to do. "I can't believe it was pre-planned," he said, adding the young men just wanted to go to the Silver Bullet, a nightclub featuring strippers.
Scott said he hoped the incident wouldn't reflect poorly on the many fine UI students he's ferried in the past.
"Kids do stupid things. I did stupid things in my life. But I just can't see somebody who's going to school doing that. You'd think that would be done in the ghetto. To me, it showed you just can't trust anybody any more," Scott said.