Managing in the Aftermath of Disaster
A Taxi Manager Responds When a Driver is Killed
Taxicab Driver Tahir Khan
Died January 24, 2006
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
On Tuesday night January 24, 2006 Toronto taxicab driver Tahir Khan was killed when his cab was struck at high speed by another vehicle. The circumstances surrounding the death stunned the taxi community and attracted immediate national press interest.
In a series of emails to the Taxi-List discussion forum, Diamond Taxicab Dispatch Services general manager Jim Bell recalled what happened in the aftermath. "I am going to relate how our company has attempted to cope with a tragedy which happened with one of our drivers, Tahir Khan, this week who was killed in a senseless accident on Tuesday night."
Following are Jim Bell's comments interspersed with excerpts (in blue) from a few of the 70+ news articles that appeared in the days following the fatal collision.
Toronto police believe at least 10 people witnessed a horrific crash during a high-speed race that resulted in the death of a taxi driver.
The accident occurred when two late-model Mercedes were racing along Mount Pleasant Rd., south of St. Clair Ave. E., at about 10:20 p.m. Tuesday. Police say one of the cars struck a cab driven by Tahir Khan, forcing it into a utility pole, and he was killed.
Jim Bell gets first word of the crash
I first heard of the accident at 6am the next morning. My first thoughts were "Was it one of ours?" When I saw the TV images I saw our company colours and I knew then that it was.
On my desk when I arrived at work around 6:50am I had a report from our evening dispatch staff indicating that it was car #1115 and that the driver was probably Tahir Khan. I also had 6 or 7 messages on my phone from the press looking for comments and information on the driver.
Our company policy when dealing with media is to refer all calls to myself or my designate if I am out of town. This policy came about from media training sessions I had attended over the years at TLPA (Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association) conferences.
I checked all our business records on Mr. Khan including our computer records on car #1115 and the GPS tracking of the car. It was an eerie feeling to see the last GPS location icon of the vehicle at the accident scene at 10:23pm on Tuesday evening.
I also reviewed the driver information on Mr. Khan and his emergency contacts. Mr. Khan had indicated his fleet operator when he had started with us back in May of 2003. I contacted our dispatcher to find anyone who knew Tahir closely. The driver communication network worked well and I had several drivers call me within a few minutes to tell me what they knew of Tahir and his personal circumstances.
I also took several minutes to work up some key points for the media and figure out what information on Mr. Khan was lacking. When my Assistant GM came in, I asked him to reach out to the fleet operator to find out more about who Mr. Khan was.
I also looked to the news wire to find out more about the accident so I could be better prepared. By 9am I knew Mr. Khan was married and his wife was in Pakistan, he lived with a roommate who also drove with our company and he either was or was going to become a Canadian citizen. I was also told he had two children in Pakistan (this was incorrect as I found out later in the day). I also had Mr. Khan's work history from his arrival in Canada in 2000. Mr. Khan had visited back to Pakistan last spring and was planning to go back as there were health issues with his mother. I also knew Mr. Khan's date of birth.
The key message I wanted to get across to the press was that Mr. Khan was a quiet, hardworking taxi driver who was well liked by his fellow drivers. Tahir Khan was working to bring his family over to Canada and live the Canadian dream. Mr. Khan did not deserve this fate because of the reckless abandon of these young men.The press arrives at the cab company office
The TV cameras rolled into my office around 10:30 in the morning
along with the print and radio media. I delivered the key messages
and confess I barely held it together in front of the cameras. It's
very difficult speaking about someone you know who has been killed
in such a preventable fashion.
Taxi drivers by the hundreds are expected at a service tomorrow for Scarborough cabbie Tahir Khan, while his devastated family waits anxiously for his body and a proper funeral in Pakistan...
"I'm anticipating a large driver turnout," said Jim Bell of Diamond Taxi, for whom the hard-working Khan drove after moving up from his job as a gas bar attendant three years ago...
"This has hit a lot of heart strings," said Bell, whose company will pay to fly Khan's body to Pakistan where his wife of 15 years, Fatima Batool, his brother and ill mother wait.
"He's a member of our family and we take care of our family," Bell said.
Our office had been receiving a lot of calls from our drivers looking for information and offering their help. Several of these drivers helped to fill in some of the information blanks.
I contacted our insurance company to ensure that Mr. Khan was covered under our blanket life insurance policy and advised them of the circumstances and to initiate the claim. I also found the insurance agent for Mr. Khan's taxi and started the claim there.
The noon news hit the airways and there was another flurry of media contacts looking for people who knew Mr. Khan closely. I again delegated to our staff to find drivers who had strong communication skills and who knew Tahir closely.
We found out that Tahir was scheduled to become a Canadian citizen on Friday January 27, 2006. This would have enabled Tahir to sponsor his wife into Canada and fulfill one of his goals.
The press coverage intensifies
The story has been the lead story on the local news and has been extensively covered by the local radio talk show media.
Our company along with driver friends of Tahir have been working very hard over the past couple of days helping our drivers and the surviving family in Pakistan with this crisis.
I have been heartened by the phone calls and e-mails of support we have received from across Canada for the family of Tahir Khan. Our driver community has come together and I anticipate will turn our in large numbers for a memorial service being held tomorrow.
Our local politicians will be attending the service as well as some provincial Members of Parliament. I congratulate the media with their positive portrayal of Tahir Khan a hardworking driver.
The media blitz hit again around 2:30 and we let them know the additional information about Mr. Khan.
Mid afternoon I checked my e-mails and started to see offers of condolences for Tahir, and not limited locally. This story had been picked up on the National news Circuit and seemed to have affected total strangers. Additionally I could barely keep up with my phone messages either from drivers, concerned citizens and the ever present media. Late in the day there appeared to be a general desire to be able to contribute something for Tahir's widow in Pakistan.
Mr. Khan's roommate arrived back in Toronto and we spoke briefly on the phone. He and a couple of his friends were going to call Tahir's friend back in Pakistan near the family home. The family home did not have a telephone and communications were going to be difficult.
I also told Tahir's roommate, Shahid Hasan, that the press were looking to speak with close
friends of Tahir but I would only give his phone number with his
permission. He consented and actually held a press scrum in the
apartment that he shared with Tahir. There were several drivers with him
and the cameras were rolling when he made the call to Pakistan to
relay the terrible news.
Toronto Globe and Mail
Friends and co-workers said Mr. Khan, who immigrated to the country six years ago, was a well-liked, quiet man who worked long hours to support his wife in Pakistan. He was hoping to bring her to Canada.
One of Mr. Khan's friends contacted family members in Pakistan on Wednesday to break the news. The consulate has also contacted Mr. Khan's brother to arrange the transportation of the body.
Diamond Taxicab Dispatch Services has established a trust fund for the family and will pay for Mr. Khan's funeral service, to be held at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto mosque in Scarborough.
A spokesman for Immigration and Citizenship Canada said Mr. Khan's wife could apply to come to Canada on humanitarian grounds, if before his death, Mr. Khan had applied to sponsor her.
The camera crews were there filming me when I left my office after one of the longest days of my tenure at Diamond.
I watched the news coverage on Wednesday evening, Tahir was portrayed as a hard working taxi driver working to become a Canadian citizen and his dream was taken away by the irresponsible actions of these two young men. Both young men come from well to do families and are as one of their relatives worded it "good boys". One Aunt even had the audacity to say why was there so much media attention to an accident. The young men have been charged with criminal negligence causing death and one was also charged additionally with failing to remain at the scene of the accident. Apparently the other driver not involved with the accident parked his car a couple of blocks away and came back to the scene as an innocent onlooker.
The news said that the video game "Need for Speed" was found on the front seat of the Mercedes involved in the accident. The press is having a field day tying fantasy to reality with street racing. The police spokesperson is saying the cars were moving more than 140 km/hour and Mr. Khan or anyone who had been at that time and location didn't stand a chance.
The late edition news showed Tahir's apartment and the phone call to Pakistan to break the tragic news of Tahir to the family.
The second day
Thursday morning, I arrived at work around 7am and had numerous messages either e-mail or phone from the press, fellow taxi operators, some Taxi-List members and the general public.
I called for a meeting in my office with the close friends of Tahir and some staff to see how we could coordinate our efforts to help Tahir's family. We also placed calls to our company lawyer and our bank manager to get further information on a starting up a trust fund for the family and how one gets a Canadian legal representative for the family back in Pakistan to represent the family's interests here in Canada.
At our meeting with Tahir's friends we told them that legal representation for Tahir's family had to be established and the best venue was through the Consulate General of Pakistan's office. The drivers told us the family wishes were for the body to be shipped back to Pakistan and the family gave permission for a memorial service for Tahir to be held in Canada.
Again my right arm in this crisis, Saleem Irshad, assisted in contacting the Consulate General office to facilitate the processing the body into Pakistan and filling them in on what steps and actions we had already initiated. The next step was the arrangements for the service here. The coroner's office had not yet released the body but the service would be held either Saturday or Sunday depending on the timing. Our company guaranteed payment for the shipping of the body and the cost of the memorial service with the preparation of Tahir's body.
Saleem also contacted Pakistani Airlines to arrange for shipment of the body.
Diamond sets up a trust fund
Our next challenge was in setting up a trust fund for Tahir Khan's family. Again with no legal Canadian entity for the estate we worked with the Consulate General office. The bank arranged for me to be the temporary trustee of the account until the legal entity is created. The bank has a lot of administrative hurdles for setting up this type of trust account and we were back and forth several times during the day.
The press was getting really antsy so we had a big media scrum around noon with a promise to provide a press bulletin as soon as we had memorial service details as well as the trust fund information. The press was also pushing for comments on the Canadian citizenship ceremony on Friday that Mr. Tahir Khan was supposed to attend. We had received several calls from people that Mr. Khan should be able to fulfill his dream and be granted citizenship posthumously.
Over the summer I had occasion to meet with our Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Michael Colle. I contacted his office and spoke with their staff about the tragic circumstances and was there anything the Minister could suggest. I also had contact from Howard Moscoe which has been my nemesis on the city council regarding taxi issues for many years. He was looking for details of the arrangements for Mr. Khan.
Later on Thursday afternoon we received word the body was going to be released and the service would be held on Saturday and the bank released the trust fund account number. I filled in the blanks on the press bulletin we had prepared and sent it out to the press contacts who had been covering the story over the past couple of days.
Speaking with our lawyers and insurance contacts, they advised us that the Khan family had very strong grounds to place a civil suit against the drivers and insurance companies of the two young men. It again would require a Canadian legal entity to represent the family's interests. Our blanket policy insurer called me to say that the paperwork to process the claim on behalf of the Khan estate is ready and the claim will be fast tracked when the legal entity for the estate is established.
I was having a hard time keeping up with the e-mail and phone flow and clearing my agenda as best I could. On Thursday afternoon I joined in on a previously scheduled taxi brokerage telephone conference call. I requested that messages be passed over the air in the other companies to disseminate the memorial service arrangements and the establishment of the trust fund for the family.
Diamond also owed Mr. Khan around twenty five hundred dollars from corporate charges he had previously submitted into our office, and friends of Mr. Khan had passed the hat around and collected an additional twenty five hundred dollars for a total of $5000. We notified the Consular General that we had this money and asked how best to get this money as quickly as possible to the family as there will be immediate costs when Mr. Khan's body arrives back in Pakistan next Wednesday.
I watched the news on Thursday evening...this tragedy has captured the hearts of Canadians. The news keeps showing the wreckage of the taxi, pictures of Tahir and images of the two young men being led in handcuffs into court.
On Friday morning I received a call from the mayor's office. He will be attending the memorial service. I got a call from Minister Colle's office. He is working on trying to get Canadian citizenship posthumously for Mr. Khan. The recent change in the Canadian federal government may delay this request. We also cut a certified cheque for the funeral home and the mosque for arrangements and the Consular General has greased the rails for permission for the body to be shipped to Lahore. Pakistan International Airlines has arranged the transportation logistics.
The news cameras are in yet again and we tell them the trust account
information and the memorial service arrangements. We also inform
them that the family has been advised to launch a civil suit against the
young men and their insurers.
Mayor David Miller also spoke about the dangers of driving a taxi. "Being a cabbie in the city is a tough job. You do put your own personal safety at risk," he said.
Miller offered Khan's family and friends his condolences. "He came here, like so many Torontonians, to give a chance to his family."
The mayor also spoke about the dangers of street racing. "I hope this tragedy sends a very clear message: You race cars, people can die."
Councillor Howard Moscoe, who is the taxi advocate on city council, said he was depressed when he learned of Khan's death.
"It really is a sad case," he said. "I know so many cab drivers are struggling to establish themselves in a new country, and almost all working to bring their families over, and to have his life snuffed out."
Jim Bell, manager of Diamond Taxi, said while his company's drivers have been in accidents before, "I've never had one with circumstances as tragic as this one."
A memorial service is planned for tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto mosque on Nugget Ave. Khan's body will be flown to Pakistan on Tuesday for burial.
The Tahir Khan Trust Fund has been set up to help Khan's family in Pakistan. Donations can be made at any CIBC branch to Transit No. 00402, Account No. 2168332.
I have really noticed that the drivers are very cognizant of what our company has tried to do over the past couple of days for Mr. Khan. I can't even go into the front office reception area without being stopped and there seems to be a strong togetherness between drivers and the company that I hadn't experienced since our drivers de-certified their union in a movement a couple of years ago. We keep saying over and over again to our drivers "without the drivers we have no company."
The funeral service is held at the mosque
On Saturday my wife and I attended the mosque service. We sent out fleet messages to make sure everyone had a clean car as I anticipated the press would be out in numbers. There were around a thousand people at the service and I have never seen so many of our Diamond cars at one place ever. I was stunned and shocked at the outpouring of thanks and support directed towards myself and Saleem Irshad by the drivers in attendance. The Consulate General of Pakistan and the Islamic Foundation thanked us for our support. The gratitude was very humbling.
There is a fundraising event on Sunday February 5th at the Islamic Foundation Mosque in Toronto for an education scholarship for the children of Mr. Khan back in Pakistan. We are working with the Consul General of Pakistan to have a legal representative of the estate in Canada to hand the trust fund monies over and have facilitated with the insurance company the quick processing of our company's drivers $20,000 insurance policy to the estate representative.
In a North York mosque packed with more than 1,000 mourners, many of them Diamond drivers, Ontario Citizenship and Immigration Minister Mike Colle called on the new federal government to set aside red tape and allow Khan's family to come to the country he had chosen to be their home.
"Tahir Khan was so close to realizing his dream, that the least we can do is to let his family apply to come to Canada on humanitarian grounds," said Colle, sparking cheers and applause throughout the otherwise sombre gathering in the Islamic mosque near Sheppard Ave. and Markham Rd.
On Monday we have several things to do. I think the media focus will fade quickly now other than the bail hearings for the two young men. The body leaves Toronto on Tuesday and we will be handing over the $5000 to the Consulate General for the family's immediate needs. There will be papers that have to be signed in Pakistan to create the legal entity in Canada for the estate interests in Canada. The posthumous awarding of the Canadian citizenship is outstanding and we don't know if the family will be granted special status if they wish to fulfill Tahir's dream in coming to Canada.
On Monday evening I attended a meeting with the Provincial Minister of Citizenship, the Consulate General Of Pakistan and the President of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto to coordinate and update each other in how we were assisting Mr. Khan's family and safeguarding their interests in Canada.
As of 10am this morning the trust fund our company set up for Tahir Khan is just over $15,000. I received a pleasant surprise that our driver general life insurance policy was for $20,000 instead of the $10,000 that I thought previously.
The body was shipped to Pakistan to be met by the family last night from Toronto. Our company sent along $5000 at the same time to the family through the money broker Mr. Khan had been using to send money back to Pakistan. This money is to help our the family for their immediate out-of-pocket expenses for Mr. Khan's burial in Pakistan.
We have pulled together and handed over all our phone recordings and
GPS records for the police investigation into the accident. The two
young men were released on bail last night and have bail conditions
imposed on them. One of the young men's lawyer chided the media
reagrding their extensive coverage of this story. Of course, this
morning the story is back on the front page and was lead story last
night on the local newscast. Nothing like fanning the flames.
There has been no remorse expressed by the families for Mr. Khan
that I am aware of.
As taxi driver Tahir Khan's body arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan, today for burial in his ancestral home, his adopted home of Toronto continues to open its heart to his family.
Diamond Taxi has collected $15,000 in donations for the family of the night-shift driver killed last week in a car accident, just three days before he was to become a Canadian citizen. Company life insurance should pay his widow about $20,000, general manager Jim Bell said.
"There's been an amazing outpouring from the people of Toronto. Some people have sent very touching letters with their cheques - some even say they believe Tahir Khan was once their driver," Bell said.
As well, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto has seen donations steadily come in to a trust fund it has set up, and it's already sent an early $2,000 to relatives to cover expenses. The foundation will hold a special fundraising luncheon at its mosque on Nugget Ave. on Sunday to support Khan's children.
"We are a global village, after all. This family has lost their breadwinner, so if we can do anything to make their life easier, we must do it," foundation president Mohammad Alam said.
As a footnote the Trust Fund we established has collected more than $25,000 and its still growing. The politicians have jumped on board and are planning a children's education foundation luncheon for Mr. Khan's relatives and he will likely be granted Canadian citizenship posthumously.
I am looking for our company to take a step back from the legal aspects and follow up for the estate interests for several reasons. The criminal trials for the misguided youths will likely not occur for a least a year down the road. The police accident reconstruction investigation team have been doing a thorough investigation including obtaining the GPS tracking records of the taxi, our telephone log tape recordings with the drivers and our dispatch office. Additionally, the police have the vehicle maintenance logs from Mr. Khan's opposite shift driver and the city's mechanical inspection history of the vehicle. In speaking with one of the investigating officers the second vehicle which did not collide with the taxi had some evidence that the accident occurred in front of him and there would be no way the driver was unaware that he witnessed the accident before leaving the scene. This second driver parked his car a few blocks away and walked back to the scene. Thus the additional charge leaving the scene of the accident being levied against the second driver.
Both youths are charged with criminal negligence causing death, and with dangerous driving causing death. There was a recent British Columbia Appeals court decision with similar circumstances where both drivers that were street racing and involved with a fatality accident were both found guilty and culpable. This gives me optimism that it will be difficult for their counsel to get this accident swept under the rug. The police are working on getting the Mercedes computer black box codes to try to ascertain the speed of the one vehicle prior to impact.
The taxicab was turning left at the intersection, however there is a slight knoll and curve which impedes the line of sight. The accident occurred at night and someone should be able with normal city sppeds to see the glow of headlights over the crest of the hill, but with the speeds involved Mr. Khan would not have had enough time to complete the turn. I believe this is where the accident reconstruction team will have to prove that Mr. Khan's left turn was not the principal cause of the accident but rather that the excessive speed of the racing Mercedes did not allow for anyone to make a left turn. Apparently, the police have had several witnesses come forward who saw how fast the cars were going minutese before the accident. With the police laying the criminal negligence causing death charge, I think they are confident they will be able to make it stick. This charge has a mazimum penalty of life imprisonment, unlikely in this case but difficult to plea bargain down to a slap on the wrist no matter how expensive the defence attorney team. There is also the public outrage and press coverage this accident received. Again it will be difficult to downplay the particular circumstances of this accident.
In regards to assisting the family getting a lawyer for the civil suit, we have suggested that they have a strong case against both drivers and their insurers. The family's legal Canadian representative will be taking the next steps in safeguarding the estate's legal rights. I feel Diamond has been very supportive and has assisted the surviving family significantly but its time for Diamond to carry on. I will let the trust fund go for another month or two and look to hand the monies collected over to the legal entity for the Khan estate and we have completed our end of the administrative paperwork for our company's drivers insurance policy for the family to collect.
I figure I will be subpoened as a witness down the line for both the
criminal and civil trials to offer testimony on the what the GPS
records show in tracking the taxi prior to the accident.
The dust settles
By early March, the Trust Fund has raised $27,000.
The Pakistan Council General's office has confirmed Tahir Khan had no children and his wife's name is Naima Batool and lives in a remote village in the Punjab district. He is survived by his mother, father and a brother and sister. The family has indicated they wish to pursue a civil action against the two boys and their insurers.
The Islamic Foundation of Canada is working with the Pakistan government to get power of attorney to act on the family's behalf in Canada. The insurer agent for Diamond's 20K general driver policy is also waiting for the legal representative to fill out the paperwork to release the monies to the legal representative of the family. The taxicab insurer driver death benefit is also waiting for the legal rep.
There have been a couple of follow up interviews on both TV and radio over
the past couple of weeks but the media spotlight has pretty well faded to
Shattered family grieves as Toronto cab driver is
laid to rest in his village in central plains of Punjab
JAMALI BALOCHA, PAKISTAN -- Wrapped in white cloth and sprinkled with rose petals, Tahir Khan was laid to rest in this Punjabi village nine days after a car crash on Mount Pleasant Road that took his life.
More than 400 men, many of them clothed in black, marking them as Shiites, followed the funeral procession down the dusty, tarred village road in Pakistan.
In his coffin, Mr. Khan's face was uncovered, revealing sharp, striking features. The mourners, most of them members of the community, took one last look at him before the coffin was sealed and covered with a black shroud imprinted with Koranic verses.
Azhar Shah, the Imam, conducted the final rites as Mr. Khan's body was lowered into the grave in the presence of his father, Ansar Khan, his brother, Shahid Khan, his wife's four brothers and scores of relatives and close friends.
In hindsight I feel our company has acted admirably and responsibly for Mr. Khan and has showed great compassion in trying circumstances. Could we have done things better? Sure, there is always room for improvement. Was our media relations policies sound? I believe so. Will I be able to sleep tonight feeling we responded positively to a horrific accident? Most definitely.
I'm not seeking kudos. I have related this tale to help myself by
reviewing my actions over the past few days. I also wish to point
out that I know many taxi company managers and owners who care deeply and
compassionately about the drivers operating in their companies. Our
company's actions is not the exception but rather the norm.
Jim Bell is General Manager of Diamond Taxicab Dispatch Services, the largest taxi fleet in Toronto. He serves as President of the Canadian Taxicab Association and is the 2006 International Vice-president of the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association.
See OSH Canada's September 2008 article The Fast Lane for more on the aftermath of this case.
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