Recent police surveillance at the CTA el station on Desplaines Avenue may have brought an end to a series of armed robberies in which taxi drivers were the apparent target. Authorities allegedly interrupted yet another brazen heist at the station during the early morning hours of Monday, Jan. 14 and took three suspects into custody.
Details of the arrests were not available; however, Deputy Police Chief Tom Aftanas said the robbery interrupted by police involved the “exact same circumstances” as the previous incidents.
Witnesses were called into the station later Monday evening to view lineups, according to Aftanas, and on Tuesday it was expected that several felony charges would be filed in connection with as many as six robberies.
As of Tuesday morning, the suspects had not been formally charged and authorities declined to identify the individuals.
Between Nov. 21 and Jan. 8 police received four reports of cab drivers being robbed at gunpoint while waiting for a fare at the commuter station on Desplaines Avenue. In each of the cases, authorities were given a similar description of the suspects, their getaway vehicle and the manner in which the crimes were committed.
“It’s an obvious cab thing,” Detective Sgt. Michael Keating said. “We don’t know why.”
According to police, the scheme appears to involve three individuals. Two of the men would get into the backseat of a cab as though they were customers, but quickly reveal handguns and demand money from the driver. The third suspect waited in what has been described as a tan or beige Oldsmobile Delta 88, and the trio made a quick escape via the nearby interstate.
All of the incidents have occurred during the late evening or early morning hours and all of the victims in the alleged robberies were cab drivers. No one was shot, according to police, but the culprits allegedly threatened to kill uncooperative drivers before pistol whipping them.
There are 12 taxi companies licensed in Forest Park, according to village hall.
Aftanas was unsure weather a weapon was displayed during the Jan. 14 incident, but said a gun was recovered from one of the suspects. Their vehicle matched previous descriptions, including a partial license plate number gleaned from the investigation, Aftanas said.
However, following an alleged robbery in mid-December, police in Bellwood stopped a vehicle fitting the description and a juvenile was arrested after a cab driver positively identified the suspect, according to Keating. That case is still pending in juvenile court. Aftanas said the witness who identified the juvenile will be asked to view new lineups.
According to a department report on a New Year’s Eve robbery, the victim told police that one of the suspects said, “I am a stickup guy, I am the best,” before hitting him in the back of the head with the gun.
That statement, said Keating, indicates the somewhat reckless attitude of the culprits, which potentially increases the likelihood of a shooting.
Jose Lichouco drives a cab for Forest Park Taxi and is well aware of the incidents. Another driver in his company was robbed, he said. During a recent shift he went by the el station at 711 Desplaines Ave. and saw that there were no cabs waiting in the designated area. Lichouco said he also observed a tan Oldsmobile in the parking lot and decided to look for customers on Madison Street instead.
“You just gotta be extra careful,” Lichouco said.
At the dispatch center for Blue Cab on Roosevelt Road, General Manager Jim Bennett said his drivers have mentioned the robberies, prompting him to contact the police for any information or advisories. Cameras installed in each of the cars for Blue Cab go a long way toward helping drivers feel safer as they go about their business, Bennett said.
A driver and owner of South West Taxi, Oscar Hernandez, said he’s looking into camera systems for his cabs and readily acknowledged the attacks are unsettling. Both he and Lichouco said they’ve seen more police at the Desplaines Avenue station.
“I know the police want to do something,” Hernandez said.
Forest Park police are working with the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force on the case.