He wasn't just a cab driver.
Vincent Flores was a friend, a father and a husband.
The 54-year-old Smiths Station man was found murdered Thursday in the trunk of his taxi. Flores' alleged killers, two out-of-towners from Illinois, were apprehended by Columbus police that evening at the Grey Hound bus station on Veterans Parkway.
"Not only did I lose one of my best friends, I lost a family member," said Michael Peak, A-Cab Company's president and Flores' boss. "Everyone who works for our company becomes family."
It was Peak who first found Flores' body curled up and covered in blood. He used words like sick, disgusted and angry to describe how he felt when he popped the trunk of the charred 1990's model Lincoln Towncar and visually processed its contents. Dark stains, scattered articles of clothing, a smoke and water-worn bible and a body.
Patrol officers responded to Meloy Drive in Columbus about 7:30 a.m. after a woman called 911 to report an attempted robbery, said Columbus Police Lt. Lynn Joiner. At the scene, they encountered a burning taxi abandoned on the side of the road. Firefighters were called to the area to extinguish the flames.
Peak said he got a call about the vehicle from the grand daughter of the a 67-year-old women who reported the attempted robbery earlier that morning. The company sent a wrecker to Columbus to retrieve the vehicle and bring it to Phenix City, Joiner said. Peak said about two hours elapsed between the time Columbus authorities encountered the burning cab and when the wrecker towed it back to Phenix City. The trunk was not searched until the car reached Phenix City, Peak said.
By 4:30 p.m., Columbus investigators had Fred E. Bickler, 29, and Carrie A. Lemke, 30, both of Posen, Ill. in custody. The couple was arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, hijacking a motor vehicle, first-degree arson, criminal attempt armed robbery of person over 65 and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime. They are due to appear in Recorder's Court for their first appearance hearing this morning at 9 a.m.
Kenosha Broadnax, a driver with City Cab of Phenix City, was on her way to pick up a customer in the Benning Hills area Thursday morning when she saw a stranded cab and two people in the road. She recognized the cab as belonging to Flores and since she'd never met him before, she assumed the male suspect asking her for a ride to a gas station was Flores. Broadnax took care of her current customer first then went back to the two strangers. They weren't there.
She eventually found them and the cab on Meloy Drive. The trio drove around for several minutes looking for a gas station, but couldn't find one so Broadnax returned Lemke and Bickler to the abandoned cab on Meloy Drive as per their request. Broadnax drove away and shortly thereafter, Flores' cab was set on fire and the two suspects were gone.
When Broadnax realized she had been just inches away from the two people arrested for the murder of a fellow cab driver, the mother of five broke down.
"I could have lost my life," she said. "The Lord has His hands on me."
Broadnax said she realizes being a cab driver is a dangerous job.
"Of course it is," she said. "Of course it is. I always knew that when I first began."
Peak said he believes driving a cab is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. There are precautions drivers can take, however, to protect themselves from dangerous customers. With one touch of a button on their built-in microphone systems, dispatchers will know something is wrong and can connect instantly with the driver, he said.
Drivers are also told to ask customers exactly where they want to be taken. That information is then radioed to dispatch and logged.
Lemke and Bickler told Flores they were going to the Columbus Metropolitan Airport. Peak said the couple had traveled to Columbus to work the Greater Columbus Fair. They were fired or let go, he said, and were trying to find a way out of town.