Taxi robber sentenced to life, cab drivers still cautious - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Taxi robber sentenced to life, cab drivers still cautious

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

A man convicted of robbing taxi drivers in Savannah will now spend the rest of his life in jail.

Charles Rice was found guilty of robbing several drivers downtown last year, and cab companies in Savannah have thought twice about driver safety ever since.

Rice has a long history of targeting taxis, and that's exactly why the district attorney was seeking a life sentence. In fact, his criminal background dates back 30 years, and that was part of what the judge considered Wednesday.

"The bottom line would be that this is a life without the possibility of parole followed by 40 years in prison," said Judge Penny Haas Freesman in court.

Rice was also charged in 2014 and in 2011, plus he spent 14 years in prison for robbing a cab driver in 1996.

But after that recent string of incidents in Savannah, cab companies started taking extra precautions, especially when it comes to phone numbers passengers use.

"Ever since we had that problem - obviously, with this case that you're talking about --it definitely threw up flags," said Michelle Adams, co-owner of Chatham Cab and vice president of the Savannah Taxi Owners Association.

Rice's M.O. was having someone else call a cab for him - like at a gas station, for example - that way he didn't leave a callback number traceable to him.

Now, most cab companies in town won't accept fares from private or third-party numbers.

"We ask them if they have a contact number that the driver can contact them specifically on, not just a gas station or a place of business that may or may not be open when we get there," said Adams.

Of course the taxi industry has changed with the dawn of ride-sharing companies like Uber, which first arrived in Savannah less than a year ago. The company boasts driver safety, because it's a cash-free model, but that's becoming the norm for many cab companies, too.

"In the past, being a taxi cab driver has been a very dangerous profession because of the cash involved, but app technology will make the proceedings more cash-less, which makes these drivers less of a target for robbers," said Dave Sutton, spokesperson for the “Who’s Driving You” campaign with the Taxi Cab, Limousine and Paratransit Association.

Of course, the upcoming St. Patrick's Day weekend is one of the busiest - and potentially more dangerous - times of the year for cab drivers. Adams said they try to keep constant contact with their drivers and remind them to be extra aware that weekend.

Also interesting to note, this will be the first St. Patrick's Day since Uber came to Savannah.

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