Violent robberies put Duluth cab drivers on alert

The owner of a Duluth cab company said Thursday he's told his drivers to be "really picky" about picking up late-night customers after two of his employees reported being beaten and robbed this week in similar incidents.

The owner of a Duluth cab company said Thursday he's told his drivers to be "really picky" about picking up late-night customers after two of his employees reported being beaten and robbed this week in similar incidents.

People in the cab business say such robberies in Duluth are rare, but this week's crimes are a cause for concern.

"I've been here six years and [my cabs] have been robbed five times, and two of them happened in the last three days," said Custom Cab owner Dan O'Hearon, who operates six cabs. "We're turning into a little Chicago, and the crime wave seems to be getting just as bad."

The most-recent robbery happened shortly before

3 a.m. Thursday.


Al Bifulk, 29, of Duluth, was the second of two Custom Cab drivers robbed and assaulted by three males in Duluth's East Hillside this week. The first was robbed and assaulted early Monday.

"They got beat up pretty bad," O'Hearon said.

Bifulk said he picked up a male fare in the 300 block of East Fifth Street and drove him to the 1200 block of East Fourth, where two other males were waiting. Bifulk said the male in the cab then struck him in the forehead. The two other males pulled him from the cab, continued the assault and robbed him.

Bifulk said this was his first robbery in 4½ months driving a cab. He said he wasn't allowed to say how much money was stolen from him but called it "a very good amount of money.''

He said he never saw a gun, but he was stunned when hit in the forehead with what he believes was a gun.

"It hurts, because we drive these people around and keep them safe,'' Bifulk said. "I don't know if it's personal or what.'' He said most of his customers in the early-morning hours are intoxicated bar patrons.

He has a 6-day-old son and said he planned to return to work Thursday night. "I'm not letting these people scare me away,'' he said. "Like I told police, they messed up when they let me live. If police don't do something, I will, plain and simple. If they don't want to bring city justice into it, we'll bring street justice into it.

"This has been an awesome job. This is not going to stop me from doing my job.''



The robberies have other cab owners concerned.

"Crime is pretty rare in the taxi business in the Twin Ports," said Linda Cadotte, owner of Courtesy Cab Inc., which operates five cabs. "Two attacks in one week is pretty disturbing. I certainly hope the police can catch the perpetrators."

Custom Cab driver Anthony Baumgartner, 28, said he thought he might die early Monday as three gunmen beat and robbed him.

"I thought as soon as I gave them the money, I was done," he said.

Baumgartner said he was robbed about 1 a.m. Monday when he was dispatched to Eighth Avenue East and Sixth Street. When he arrived, a man got into the cab's passenger seat, yanked the keys from the cab's ignition, pulled out an automatic pistol and began hitting Baumgartner.

"I'm like: 'Man if you want my money, Man, just ask me, I'll give it to you,' " Baumgartner said. "As soon as I said that I picked up my mic and said 'Al, get the police up here, I'm being robbed.' "

The gunman ripped out the microphone. Two accomplices appeared, opening the cab's driver's side door.


"The next thing I know, I've got a shotgun and revolver pointed at my head from my driver's side door," Baumgartner said.

Baumgartner stalled for time as the three demanded money and the first gunman continued to hit him with the pistol.

"I already told him you can have the money," Baumgartner told the robber with the shotgun. "All you have to do is ask. But he's hitting me. Tell him to stop hitting me."

When the robber holding the shotgun lowered the weapon, Baumgartner said, he quickly reached into his pocket and gave the robbers his money. After they left, Baumgartner looked at himself in the rearview mirror.

"I was bleeding and I didn't know what kind of damage they did, and I didn't know if I was going to pass out," he said. He drove himself to St. Mary's Medical Center.

Baumgartner said the first robber was about 5-foot-9 and 145 to 150 pounds; the second was 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-2 and 155 to 160 pounds; and the third 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-nine and 150 to 155 pounds. He said all three were black.

After the first robbery, O'Hearon told his dispatchers that the company would not pick up fares calling from numbers the company couldn't call back or that weren't answered upon callback. He's become even more cautious after Thursday's robbery.

"We're going to be really, really picky about who we pick up," he said. "We're pretty much going to shut it down until this is taken care of. If we can't verify who they are, we are not going to pick them up."


O'Hearon said he plans to talk to Police Chief Gordon Ramsay about how the case has been handled. Baumgartner later spotted the three people who attacked him, but police released them after a couple of hours, O'Hearon said.

Officers did detain and identify three people after the first robbery, Duluth spokesman Brad Wick said. The three were released and the information passed on to the department's Violent Crimes Unit, which is investigating both incidents.

"We are unsure at this time" if the two are related, Wick said.

What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads