Taxi driver murder in St. Pete has drivers on high alert

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The Thursday morning stabbing death of a cab driver in St. Petersburg has detectives scouring businesses for video that can help catch his killer. 

It’s also focusing attention on dangers drivers face when they let strangers in their back seat.  It doesn’t matter if drivers work for Uber, Lyft, or one of the many Tampa Bay area taxi companies. Drivers really never know who they’re picking up.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life for cabbies and ride-share drivers. They take a risk every time somebody crawls in their back seat.

“It’s nerve-racking. You get people in your car all the time that you don’t know,” said United Taxi driver Trish Vignola. She worries about her safety.

“I’ve have had people doing drugs in my back seat before. Yeah ya know, and I’ve had to tell ’em to stop doing drugs and put ’em out of my car or I’d have to call the police,” said Vignola.

Thursday morning’s stabbing death of John Hutchens at a Citgo gas station in St. Petersburg is putting drivers on high alert.

The killer drove off in Hutchens’ taxi, leaving him behind, screaming for help.

“I saw the guy was bleeding really bad. So I went around, and I had shirts in my car and I was trying to stop the bleeding,” said witness Justin Windham.

Windham saw the taxi drive off. He and a friend rushed to help Hutchens.

“He said that he was dying. He’s like, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying,’ and he took his last breaths,” said Windham.

The murder is eerily similar to Wednesday’s stabbing death of an Uber driver near Chicago. A teenage girl is accused of killing him with a knife and machete she stole from a Walmart.

Driver Trish Vignola hopes her new HD cameras will prevent trouble.

“The director told me that it prevents 82 percent of damage to us, harm to us. It’s protecting us,” she said.

Pinellas County sheriff crime scene techs spent hours going over the cab that was found blocks from the gas station.

St. Petersburg police won’t say if they found any video evidence on that mirror-mounted camera.

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