A Friday night out with friends in Ho Chi Minh City nearly turned to tragedy last weekend for 51-year-old American expat Francisco Ortega*, who was attacked by a crazed taxi driver close to the Reunification Palace in the centre of District 1.
At around 10:15 pm last Friday September 22, Francisco and a group of three friends, including Francisco’s partner and another couple visiting from Malaysia, were crossing Le Duan Street in the middle of Park 30/4 – a block away from the Reunification Palace – when they were confronted by a speeding seven-seater taxi bearing the resemblance of one of the city’s well-known operators.
Refusing to fully slow down, Francisco said he ‘swatted’ the hood of the car with his hand to alert the driver that his group were crossing the street.
“I’m no newbie to crossing the road in Saigon,” Francisco told Tuoi Tre News, “so I assumed the driver would stop in front of us to let us cross, but he was still moving too quickly, so I swatted his front hood to alert him that we were there.”
“What happened next was beyond me.”
The architect from Portland, Oregon, who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for the last five years, says that he was immediately set upon by the ‘wild-eyed’ driver. No verbal confrontation, only pure rage.
“In a split-second he opened the door and ran towards me. He came out swinging, and I was caught off guard, but was ready to defend myself,” Francisco said of the initial encounter.
Legally blind without his eyeglasses, Francisco says they were knocked off as he traded blows with the enraged driver, and that was when he fell on some nearby motorbikes parked along the street, breaking his rib.
While this was happening, the taxi itself had begun rolling backwards into traffic on Pasteur Street, as the driver had failed to activate his handbrake. Fearing that it would roll onto him, Francisco’s partner managed to stop its progress.
“My adrenaline was rushing at this point,” Francisco said, “but I assumed the fight was over and so was walking away when my friends told me that the driver had gone back to his car for a knife and was running at me making slashing movements.”
“He tried to stab me numerous times,” the American citizen said, “but somehow, despite the fact that I couldn’t see, I managed to avoid his knife, or so I thought at the time.”
With his friends watching on in horror, and the driver then retrieving an iron bar from the street, Francisco managed to take shelter in a nearby well-lit café, which he says scared off the pursuing driver, but where he also realized that he was bleeding from the chest. Although not life-threatening, the shocked 51-year-old had in fact been stabbed.
Applying pressure to his wound using a pile of napkins, the group then made their way to a nearby medical clinic, where Francisco received emergency treatment, stitches in his chest and a series of scans to check for internal injury, before being kept by the doctor’s overnight.
A plain-clothes policeman, who had witnessed the aftermath also approached the group, and a full report was made, although in the drama, no one had taken the license plate, and as they would later find out, there was no CCTV footage. In the meantime, the crazed taxi driver had disappeared, along with his three passengers, who according to Francisco’s friends, had stayed in the cab throughout the entire assault.
‘Not an isolated incident’
Friday’s incident comes in the wake of several others in the city recently involving unlicensed taxi drivers, the alleged taxi-mugging of an American diplomat as reported by local media over the weekend, and in an environment in which the livelihoods of cab drivers are being put under pressure by app-based ride hailing services like Grab and Uber, whose drivers continue to come under attack themselves.
|An unregistered taxi driver threatens a traffic inspector with a paper knife on September 4, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Francisco said he wanted to go public to warn locals and fellow expats of the realities that exist, but was also keen to emphasize that nothing as serious as this had occurred during his time in Vietnam.
“To me, this is not an isolated incident,” he explained. “I think rage exists amongst taxi drivers these days and they are always prepared for an encounter, with weapons at the ready. I also believe this driver was stimulated, as there was no verbal exchange, only violence. We’ve been in many cabs before where the driver is almost falling asleep too, creating a dangerous situation, and I have heard the stories of others regarding angry cab drivers.”
“I would like to warn people about taxis, and to be wary of them, especially at night.”
(*name changed for privacy reasons)
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