|Sheicho Delbar, 35, was found shot to death inside his cab on Thursday morning in the Treme neighborhood. (Credit: Facebook)|
Police said officers responded to a call of a vehicle that had crashed into a tree around 1 a.m. and found Delbar's body in the driver's seat of the taxi, which had smashed into a tree in the 900 block of North Johnson Street. He was dead on the scene, authorities said.
Delbar had been shot in the chest, said John Gagilano, chief investigator for the Orleans Parish coroner's office. He did not appear to have suffered any injuries as a result of the crash, Gagliano said, and the death has been ruled a homicide.
Delbar was in the process of completing the paperwork necessary to bring his family to New Orleans, a close friend said. "He had two young children and a wife. He was getting ready to fly home next month and bring them to live here with him," said Enku Tadesse, who drives a Veteran's taxicab in the city.
"He was such a sweet person, such a nice guy. I'm so very sad," said Tadesse.
Tadesse said Delbar, who began working as a cab driver in New Orleans in 2010, was part of the close-knit cabbie community in the city and was well-liked. Many drivers are concerned about the funeral arrangements, and whether to fly Delbar's body back to Africa, since he has limited family in New Orleans, Tadesse said.
Delbar is the 23rd cabdriver in New Orleans to be killed on the job since 1994, according to City Hall statistics.
The most recent was Dec. 16, when 56-year-old Joseph Wilfred was found shot to death inside a cab near the corner of South Claiborne Avenue and Hollygrove Street after his car hit a construction barrier. Wilfred worked for a Metairie-based cab company and police believe he was slain during a robbery.
In July 2012, United Cab driver Ali Husnain, 44, was found dead inside a cab in eastern New Orleans after picking up a fare in the Central Business District. Again, police said they believe Husnain was shot after a robbery.
While NOPD investigators have not publicly named a motive in Delbar's slaying, other cab drivers said armed hold-ups are all too common.
"I've been driving a cab in New Orleans for 10 years and a lot of my friends have been held up and threatened with guns, knives -- but this is the first time one of my homeboys was killed," a teary-eyed Tadesse said.
Under an ordinance passed in April 2012, all taxis in New Orleans are required to have a security camera, a panic button that triggers a silent alarm that notifies dispatchers of danger, and GPS tracking systems.
"We believe that our drivers are safer today than they were before," Malachi Hull, director of the New Orleans Taxicab and For-Hire Bureau, said in a statement.
Delbar is the first New Orleans taxicab driver to be killed since the reform ordinances were passed.
"Our safety is in jeopardy whether we have the cameras or not," Tadesse said. "The city has said that these things are supposed to make us safe, but clearly they are not doing the job."
Taxicabs with bulletproof partitions, which are common in cities like New York and Chicago, are absent in most New Orleans cabs.
The car Delbar was driving was equipped with all the required security measures, but did not have a partition, an employee of American Taxi who wished to remain anonymous said. "He had all of the equipment, but in the end it didn't do him any good," the employee said.
Another common complaint from New Orleans cab drivers is that according to city law, drivers are not allowed to refuse a ride to anyone. One provision cab drivers hope will help to lower the number of drivers killed is a bill passed in August 2012 which makes killing a working cab driver first-degree murder. The bill requires that the killer have a specific intent to kill or inflict harm on the cab driver.
Homicide Detective Timothy Bender is in charge of the investigation.
Police ask anyone who has information on Delbar's murder to call Crimestoppers at 504.822.1111 or toll-free at 877.903.7867. Tips can also be texted to C-R-I-M-E-S (274637); text TELLCS then the crime information. Callers or texters do not have to give their names or testify and can earn a $2,500 reward for information that leads to an indictment.