Vincent Flores may have been alive when his taxi cab was set ablaze with him in the trunk.
Autopsy results show that Flores, of Smiths Station, Ala., died of a stab wound to the neck and soot inhalation, Columbus Police Detective Vincent Sampson said during a 9 a.m. Saturday Recorder's Court hearing.
Flores, 54, a driver for A-Cab Company, was found dead Thursday in the trunk of his taxi.
Fred E. Bickler, 29, and Carrie A. Lemke, 30, both of Posen, Ill., appeared in court to face a series of charges. Both pleaded not guilty to each of their six charges: murder, kidnapping, hijacking a motor vehicle, first-degree arson, criminal attempt armed robbery of a person over 65 and the possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.
Both cases were bound over without bond to Superior Court.
Sampson, who conducted videotaped interviews with Bickler and Lemke, revealed new details leading up to the couple's arrest.
Sampson told Judge Cynthia Maisano that Bickler had traveled to Columbus to work the Greater Columbus Fair. Lemke, who was not employed by the fair, came to accompany her boyfriend. At some point, Bickler was fired.
Around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, local cab driver Michael Turner told police he picked up a man identified as Bickler at the fair. Turner, who was in court Saturday to testify, said the man requested a ride to the BP gas station on Veterans Parkway and Manchester Expressway to receive a Moneygram. Afterward, the man asked Turner to drop him off at the Greyhound Bus Lines on Veterans Parkway, which Turner did.
Later that evening, Turner saw the man was still at the Greyhound station — this time with a woman.
Sampson also told the court that Bickler had filed a police report for armed robbery early Thursday. At12:40 a.m., a Columbus police officer was dispatched to a robbery call at 818 Veterans Parkway.
Bickler told the officer he had been robbed of $100 by three men around Booker T. Washington Apartments. Bickler said they pointed a gun at him and cut him on the stomach with a knife.
Sampson testified that the Greyhound station was where Flores encountered Bickler and Lemke.
They requested a ride to Columbus Metropolitan Airport, but Lemke told Flores she only had $20. Flores told her he would bring them for $12, so the couple placed their bags in the trunk and got in.
Once at the airport, the couple requested Flores bring them to a bank ATM so they could pay the fare. Flores brought them to the Circle K at 2525 Airport Thruway where Bickler tried to withdraw money but had insufficient funds in his account. Flores then brought the two back to the airport. Lemke told police that her boyfriend put his hand around Flores' neck and told him to get out of the car and into the trunk.
Police believe Bickler stabbed Flores in the neck in the airport parking lot.
The couple then took the cab and ended up at the Fort Benning gate, where a soldier told them they couldn't enter. They drove around, lost, until they ran out of gas on Meloy Drive.
Sampson told the judge the taxi cab was in front of the home of Lena Spurlin, 67, who offered to help push the car off of a curb. Lemke asked to use the bathroom, so Spurlin let her in.
Spurlin, who was in court, pointed at Lemke and told the judge, "That lady pulled a knife on me."
But during the attempted robbery, Spurlin also pulled a knife and ran Lemke out of her home.
Patrol officers were called later to the location where the taxi cab was found ablaze at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Once the burning vehicle was discovered, firefighters rushed to the scene as well.
A-Cab employees discovered Flores' body in the trunk after A-Cab was called to have the vehicle towed back to its Phenix City home site.
Sampson said that Bickler has denied starting the fire, but did admit he was smoking a cigarette.
During police interviews, Bickler said after he forced Flores into the cab trunk, they drove him to The Medical Center and told him to get out. Bickler reported that Flores refused, saying he was scared. He said he later offered to let Flores out a second time, when he refused again.
Contact Andrea V. Hernandez at 706-571-8586