“We used to call him Uncle Ahmed.”
Fadil Memedi, a former Yellowknife taxi driver, warmly recalls the moniker he and fellow cabbies gave, out of respect, to Ahmed Mahamud Ali, a longtime driver who died early Monday morning after being found unconscious inside his cab.
On Tuesday, Yellowknife RCMP charged 18-year-old Elias Schiller with murder in connection with the death of Ali, who was located in the backseat of his City Cab taxi outside Stanton Territorial Hospital around 4:45 a.m. Monday morning. No other individuals have been in relation to the death.
“He was one of the nicest guys in the industry,” said Memedi in an interview with Yellowknifer Wednesday.
“Possibly even one of the nicest guys in Yellowknife.”
Ali worked on and off as a cab driver in the city for more than 20 years.
If a passenger was aggressive or skipped out on their fare, Ali wouldn’t even try to argue with them, recalled Memedi, who retired from cab driving in the 1990s.
“It’s strange how it happens to the nicest people,” said Memedi, adding if you met Ali once, “he was your friend.”
City Cab Ltd. general manager Shirley McGrath, who was “very shaken” following news of Ali’s death – deemed “suspicious” by Mounties on Monday – said the arrest of Elias and the charge laid by police brings a “great deal of relief.”
In the wake of Ali’s death, policy and security changes could be coming to City Cab Ltd., said McGrath.
Currently, City Cab Ltd. vehicles aren’t equipped with emergency contact buttons. At one point, McGrath said, an emergency contact was built into vehicle meters – an option that ceased when the company revamped its in-car technology.
“We’re looking at getting a new computer system, and we’re hoping that will have something built in that will allow for emergency contact,” said McGrath.
Those decisions will be weighed when the City Cab Ltd. board of directors meet next Wednesday, said McGrath.
Along with emergency contact buttons, the introduction of cameras and barriers between drivers and passengers will “definitely be on the agenda,” at the meeting, she said.
McGrath added some driver’s cabs feature cameras, but those upgrades are left up to individual drivers and how much money they want to invest into their vehicles.
It’s McGrath’s understanding that Ali’s cab was not equipped with a camera.
She said the company’s GPS system lost contact with Ali early Monday morning in the Wilkinson Crescent area.
Mounties are now urging residents to come forward if they witnessed any suspicious activity in that area, along with Fraser Arms West or East and the Stanton Territorial Hospital emergency entrance.
Ali’s last recorded fare, she said, ended with someone in the vehicle pressing the meter’s “booked free,” feature, which means a driver is available to pick up another passenger.
In the wake of Ali’s death, a taxi driver in the city, who wished to remain anonymous, told Yellowknifer he’s being “much more careful,” on the road.
Just two weeks ago, the driver said, he was punched in the head by passenger who didn’t have the money to pay his fare.
“That’s why I don’t drive at night,” another driver told Yellowknifer.
Fadil Memedi said crime in the city has worsened since his time as a cab driver, citing stabbing attempts and assaults in recent years.
If he were just starting out as a driver today, he’d “weigh his options differently,” he said.
While McGrath said her employees “haven’t really raised any concerns,” about the threat of violence while out on the road, she added it’s been a “challenge to get people to drive at night.”
“They don’t like dealing with people who are drunk and often they don’t get paid for those fares or if there’s risk of violence,” she said.
A funeral for Ali is set to be in held in Edmonton on Friday.