BOSTON - When Boston taxi driver Joseph Cohen discovered that he had unwittingly driven off with a sleeping 5-year-old girl in the back of his van after dropping the rest of her family off at their home, he knew he was doing the right thing by immediately returning the child to her worried parents.
So Cohen, a cabbie for 39 years, was surprised when the Boston Police Hackney Unit told him that he faced a three-day suspension for violating rules requiring drivers to inspect their cabs for forgotten items after dropping off a fare. A union representing cabbies also expressed outrage, saying the fault should lie with the child's family, not the driver.
For Cohen, the story had a happy ending Tuesday. He told The Associated Press that police agreed to drop the suspension while telling him to check his van more carefully in the future. Cohen said the girl had been in the back of the van behind another seat and he could not see her from his rearview mirror or from the outside of the vehicle.
Police would not release the names of the parents but said they were not being investigated.
It started as a routine fare for Cohen, a native of Israel, when he picked up the family of six at Logan International Airport on Sunday, drove them to their home in the city's Mattapan neighbourhood, and helped them unload their luggage.
"They paid me, thank you very much, everything was nice, and I left," he said.
Minutes later, he got a call from the cab pool at the airport, telling him state police, who have jurisdiction over Logan, were looking for him.
"I said to them 'for what?"' he recalled.
He was told the family left the child in his cab.
"I said 'what?' So I looked in the back and I see the baby sleeping. I said 'what should I do?' So you know, I take the baby (back) to the family," he said.
"The father came out. He was very happy. He said 'I appreciate it,"' Cohen recalled, adding that the man offered him some money, which Cohen didn't want but eventually he accepted $50.
The following day, Cohen said, he was ordered to report to the Hackney unit, where police told him his license was suspended for three days because he didn't do a thorough check of the van. He appealed the suspension and was allowed to keep his license pending a hearing. But Tuesday, he said, he visited the police station with an attorney and was told the suspension would be dropped.
"We gave him a warning," said Elaine Driscoll, a police spokeswoman. "We are very happy that the baby was safely returned to mom and dad. That said, it was an important opportunity to remind cab drivers why we have a rule that dictates they must check the back of their cab after every fare."
A union representing cabbies said that suspending Cohen would have been unfair and that family members were to blame.
"I think the sad piece here is that the police are not recognizing the responsibility of the adults and are now saying this driver also has to be responsible for passengers who forget their children," said Donna Blythe-Shaw, a staff representative for the United Steelworkers Boston Taxi Drivers Association.